Lake Hawea farmer hits back at critics

A Lake Hawea farmer has hit back at critics accusing his practices of being woke nonsense at Australasia's first certified carbon zero farm, saying no sector advances "without the trial of new and ideally better ways".

Last Sunday's episode of Hyundai Country Calendar profiled Lake Hawea Station, near Wanaka, and owners Kiwi entrepreneurs and 42 Below vodka company founders Geoff and Justine Ross.

It quickly attracted an intense online backlash from those purporting to be from parts of the farming sector, leading to the TVNZ show replying to the criticism on its Facebook page.

With the goal of becoming 10 times climate positive, the couple also introduced alternative techniques to the woolshed to improve animal welfare, including switching music from AC/DC's Thunderstruck to Vivaldi.

Geoff and Justine Ross bought the farm in 2019. Photo: supplied
Geoff and Justine Ross bought the farm in 2019. Photo: supplied
Replying to the naysayers, Geoff Ross told The New Zealand Herald today that farming in this country currently faces two key challenges: the need to build premiums for our growers and responding to the world's need to de-carbonise.

"The steps we have taken are achieving both," he said. "We are achieving significant premiums for our climate positive status and our animal welfare techniques."

The couple also placed mattresses at the bottom of the porthole chutes to protect shorn sheep and a scorecard system was introduced for shearers' performance based on the experience of the animal.

Geoff Ross noted that the station's environment plan was authored by University of Canterbury professor David Norton.

Norton is a researcher of integrated land management and is currently exploring the integration of pastoral and biodiversity values in the South Island's high country.

"We are always happy to open source all that we do with the farming sector. Exchanging ideas and the results of our trials," Geoff Ross told the Herald. "This is how sectors advance."

During the episode - the highest rating of the year to date - he said the decisions on how they would farm were made to appease and educate overseas consumers who wrongly believe shearing is harmful to sheep.

Lake Hawea Station. Photo: supplied
Lake Hawea Station. Photo: supplied
On the show, Justine Ross also said the couple's respect for the farming community is "immense" but that they were "natural disrupters".

"We weren't going to arrive into the sector and not try and ask some questions."

Some viewers of Country Calendar, which began screening in 1966, described the Ross couple's way of farming as "woke" and "PC BS".

"Not everyone can sell a vodka company for millions and then buy a farm to try [to] promote their fantasy ideas," one comment read.

The couple sold their alcohol company to Bacardi in 2006 for $138 million. They also own companies Ecoya and Trilogy.

Both come from a rural upbringing and bought the 6500ha high country land in 2019. They now farm 10,000 merino sheep.