16 May 2014

Handsome Northland farmer wanting to connect with 38 yr old Remuera housewife...

This week our CEO, Bridgit Hawkins, has a chat with one of Regen's first customers, Ben Smith, about how his enterprising projects are a win-win for his farming operations, the local economy and the environment.

Handsome Northland farmer wanting to connect with 38 yr old Remuera housewife...

No, this is not a dating site. Ben Smith, farmer and entrepreneur from Northland, wants to get his message to people who in live in cities and put tonnes of organic waste from their kitchens to landfill every year.  Firstly, it’s not waste – your vege scraps can feed a cow and produce milk. Secondly – the cost of providing landfill is escalating and at the current rate of growth in New Zealand’s main urban centres it is becoming a huge cost on ratepayers.

Last week I caught up with Ben over the phone to learn more about the transformational enterprises he has underway. Ben, with his wife Sharon and three children are 5th generation on their property on the Hikurangi swamp north of Whangarei. They operate a dairy farm which throws them plenty of challenges – both floods and droughts are regular occurrences. One of the many innovations Ben has introduced to the farm is a sophisticated imported feed regime – yes he has traditional feeds such as grain and silage, but his cows have dined on kiwifruit, potato chips, and chocolate. Seeing the opportunity here, Ben has been part of establishing a business that collects waste – mainly from Auckland but from all over NZ – and converts it to animal feed. In 2007 EcoStock took 20 tonnes of waste that would have gone to landfill. In 2014 that is now 1,200 tonnes and predicted to grow to 72,000 tonnes by 2021. Ben told me of a recent example that it was more cost effective to truck a load of waste chocolate from Dunedin to the Auckland facility than  send it to landfill. That’s a win for everyone.

Waste is not Ben’s only interest. He is currently working on establishing an inland aquaculture venture to farm eels. The benefits of this would extend right through the Northland economy – from creating jobs, supporting several Northland environmental initiatives and growing an export market. And then there is the proposed biogas plant too. The really exciting thing is that all of these  initiatives are symbiotic – what would be waste from an  inland aquaculture operation is fertiliser for a dairy farm. Methane gas from an effluent pond becomes energy for the biogas plant to run the aquaculture plant. I’m not sure when Ben gets time to sleep, but you get the picture – he is a man on a mission to make a difference.

So where does Regen come into all of this? Well, Ben was one of the very first farmers to become a Regen customer. Right from the beginning he saw the value in collecting data about his farm. And now he says “That base data we have on our farm has been crucial to all of these developments. With this information we have been able to design a total farm system that we know is environmentally sustainable. And we can demonstrate that to whoever wants to know – the Regional Council, Fonterra or someone putting vege scraps in their rubbish in Remuera.”

To see more about Ben and Sharon’s operation click this link to view a 2010 episode of TVNZ's Rural Delivery. And keep an eye out on Country Calendar for an episode about Ben and Sharon's farming operation due to be screened later this year.


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