31 Mar 2017

Go with the Flow

From Country Life, 9:29 pm on 31 March 2017
Hamish and James Guild at High Peak Station

Hamish and James Guild at High Peak Station Photo: RNZ/Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

Adopting best practice farming systems and fencing off streams to improve water quality are ongoing tasks for James Guild and his son Hamish who farm around the headwaters of the Selwyn River in Canterbury.

High Peak Station covers 4800 hectares of hill and rugged high country. James and Anna Guild have been farming the property since 1973.

In 1989 they deer-fenced 1800 hectares of tussock and bush, creating one of the largest game parks in New Zealand now managed by another son, Simon.

Hamish manages the farming operation that includes 4500 Perendale ewes, 340 beef cows, and 1650 red deer hinds and about 800 velveting stags.

The Selwyn River has always played an important role in the Guild's lives and bit by bit they are fencing the river off, planting the riparian zone and further up in the hills they are protecting spring heads.

"It's important that we live with the river and respect the contribution it makes to the wider river systems across the plains, so for us it's very important it leaves here clean, so it's a little bit about keeping stock out, which we're doing, but it's also making sure we're not putting any excessive fertiliser or anything like that on," says James.

A gravity-fed irrigation system catches rainfall in a dam from high flows in winter and, in summer, that water is used on 100 hectares of flat land beside the river. The Guilds say this provides a huge amount of certainly for their business because dry weather patterns are becoming increasingly frequent.

Their farm is in the Selwyn/Waihora catchment and water restrictions are tight because the river was over-allocated and, with the flow of water out of the river, too many nutrients we're finding their way downstream.

James believes farmers have to accept that farming and land use around water is part of the problem and at High Peak they are happy to play their role in improving the catchment.

Hamish agrees but says the 'one size fits all' restriction policy has put a handbrake on the development of the farm.

"I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing just as long as we're not subsidising someone else. If the main contributors are downstream then they should be responsible for what they're contributing. If up here we're extensive and found to not be having a huge effect, we should largely be allowed to farm the way we are."

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