Otago Winners

Portobello sheep and beef farmers Brendon and Paula Cross

Otago BFEA Supreme Winners

Brendon and Paula Cross


Sheep and Beef farmers Brendon and Paula Cross have won the Supreme title in the 2016 Otago Ballance Farm Environment Awards (BFEA).

The couple live on their Portobello farm with their children Thomas (15) and Hannah (14), who are seventh generation there. Brendon’s forebears began farming on a portion of what is now Roselle Farm in 1863. Brendon took on the place in 1995, aged just 21, after the sudden death of his father Ron. His mother Annette still lives on the farm.

The award judges commented: “Brendon and Paula seem to have struck a balance between maintaining above-average production whilst enhancing and protecting the environment which is supported by well-developed business planning and an extraordinary commitment to community and building relationships.”

Since Paula returned to teaching with a fulltime position at nearby Broad Bay School several years ago, they have employed a staff member for the farm. There are 4900su on this breeding operation which has a sheep to cattle ratio of approximately 95:5. Their effective area is 613ha, the majority being steep hill which the sea air and wind can dry out rapidly at all times of the year.

Poplar trees planted by Brendon’s father for soil conservation on the home block are now an important feed resource; most Februarys some mature poplars will have branches cut each day to provide for the younger sheep run on the home farm.

The four lease properties are within five kilometres of Roselle Farm. The opportunity to grow the business by leasing first came in 2001 as a result of Brendon working in the district to supplement their income. He took on a portion of George and Shirley Murray’s 200ha at Sandymount, and eventually all but 40ha. In 2008 a short-term lease of the 340ha Hereweka-Harbour Cone property began but this is now a long-term agreement. Two smaller blocks adjoining the iconic Hereweka land were added in 2011 and 2012 respectively.

Brendon and Paula clearly operate with integrity. “We always see it as the lessor entrusting us with their farm,” explains Brendon. “I have always felt a sense of responsibility, that we are there as caretakers, not just to farm it for our own benefit.”

The judges noted: “The Cross family have risen to the challenge of farming in a semiurban environment, next to a large city and on the steep Otago Peninsula which is much valued by tourists and New Zealanders for its natural wonders. The Hereweka-Harbour Cone lease is a property which was purchased by the Dunedin City Council to ensure protection of the ‘outstanding’ landscape, ecological, cultural and recreational values.”

Brendon and Paula have had QEII National Trust covenants placed on two blocks of regenerating native bush, totalling five hectares. A half hectare area they recognised as a habitat for the seriously endangered Jewelled Gecko is to be predator fenced and planted with support from the Gecko Trust.

The Crosses have 38 neighbours, a mixture of lifestyle blocks, urban and farming. The Cone property has public walking tracks through it. There are many sets of eyes watching their farming operation “and we are always mindful of that,” says Brendon.

Typically, they have also seen the community mix as an opportunity and were instrumental in the establishment of the Otago Peninsula Biodiversity Group, of which Brendon is currently chairman. Says Brendon, “it is a really good mix to sit around the table with, a really positive thing to do”.

The group chose possum eradication as their first primary target “because it is achievable and they sit by themselves on the food chain”. In the past six years over 9000 possums have been taken, “and it’s all been through contestable funding at no cost to the landowners”. Formal vegetation monitoring and 20 one kilometre bird counting walks have been set up. “It is early days yet but there are some real positives coming out,” says Paula.

The group have produced education kits to encourage local children to do their own investigations of their environment. Paula takes great pleasure in incorporating conservation values into her lessons, including practical tasks like testing water quality in nearby streams. “It’s really rewarding, and amazing how much you can bring that element into teaching. Then children talk to their parents and we can get a greater understanding that farming and conservation can be combined.”

The judges wrote: “Brendon and Paula are both committed to a vision of a better understanding of rural life and work for urban people. This is reflected in their involvement in many of the local community activities and the access they provide to children and students to visit and learn from the farm.”

Recently the Crosses entered into an innovative agreement with a young South Otago couple on a finishing property in which both the lamb breeder and lamb finisher share the fluctuations in the value of the lamb at slaughter. The Crosses lambs are weighed as they leave to be finished and a portion of the kill weight is paid to them at processing.

Explains Brendon: “We were looking at ways of making the relationship between the lamb breeder and finisher more transparent. This way no matter what the market is doing the finisher will always make a margin and we will always get a fair price.” To “reinforce” the partnership, the Crosses invited the finishers to select the terminal sire rams to be used.

“If you look at it, our main concern is our maternal breed,” says Brendon. The couple became involved with the Sheep for Profit programme early in their farming, using a structured plan for stock improvement.

Taking advantage of the analysis available they have moved to a smaller, more efficient ewe and use Te Whangai Romney rams. Lambing percentage has lifted from 105 to, last season, 139 percent.

The judges commented: “The contour of the land and limitations of lease agreements influence the type of pastures present on each unit and how they are best managed. There is little opportunity to forage crop on the properties but the farms are achieving good animal performance on the existing unimproved pasture species.”

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