Fri, Jul 14, 2023 5:00 AM

Winning vineyard fuels diversity




Cath and Paul Baker hosted a large crowd at the 2023 Farming Award Field Day as winners of their category in the Cawthron Marlborough Environmental Awards.

In 2016 they made the major decision to establish a 9ha vineyard. They freely admit that the income from the grapes has enabled them to develop the property and to maintain farming enterprises and environmental projects that would otherwise be difficult to justify financially.

Sevenoaks farm has been in the family for six generations and is named after the town in Kent where the family originated. Cath’s great great grandfather was Cyrus Goulter who immigrated in 1848 and established the 3000ha Hawkesbury run famous for its merino flock that was a huge contributor to the breed’s genetics. Their care for the environment, soils and livestock was evident as the group viewed their sustainable farm system.

Principally a cropping farm amid the surrounding monoculture of grapes the Bakers produce cereals namely black oats, wheat, white clover seed and Paul’s favourite crop, red clover. Cath says that every paddock is soil tested before the application of any fertiliser, but the bulk of nitrogen is supplied by the legumes in the pasture. Cath maintains that the combination of catch crops and permanent pasture fixes carbon in the soil in a regenerative manner. It was a pleasure to view the herd of Murray Grey beef cattle with calves at foot. As an ex dairy farmer Paul found the breed easy going with a great temperament, this year the herd achieved a 100% conception rate.

The ewe flock is comprised of a hybrid breed called Longdown, a stabilised breed made up from Fin, Texel and Romney. The breed is noted for its fecundity and the flock scanned at 200% this year, with hoggets scanning 127%. In 2007 Cath’s parents David and Val established 1.9ha wetland under a QE11 covenant. Between floods, rabbits, drought and weeds it has been difficult to maintain but photographs taken by the trust each year has shown the growth of the natives and given them much encouragement.

An additional 1.1ha covenant has been added incorporating some of the original trees planted in the 1870s by the Goulter family such as a Himalayan Spruce and a Himalayan Deodara.

A self-confessed fan of birds Cath has enjoyed listening to the bellbirds, tui, grey warblers, and fantails that abound in these reserves. Among the community projects the couple have been involved with is the provision of an Astro- tourism venture which has seen the development of a crater observatory. In previous years a maize maze has been grown for public enjoyment.

Paul said that they love what they do and believe that farming is a fabulous career particularly for young people. Federated Farmers representative Evan White urged other farmers to enter the competition saying that “if we all wait around until our farming enterprise is perfect, we will never take part in the competition.”

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