SFF Project Summary

Project Title: Changing attitudes and practice for farming dry land in Marlborough
Grant No.: 05/132

Contact Details

Name of Applicant Group: Starborourgh Flaxbourne Soil Conservation Group
Contact Person: Barbara Stuart
Address: Cable Bay
RD 1
Telephone 1: 03 545 0443
Telephone 2:
Facsimile: 03 545 0410
Email: barbara.stuart@landcare.org.nz

Project Details

Status: finished
SFF Funding: 221,275
Total Project Funding: 673,000
Proposed Start Date: 2005-07
Proposed Finish Date: 2008-06
Region: Marlborough
Sector: Pastoral
Sub-sector: Sheep
Topic: Soils
Climate change

Updated:  18 May 2011

Latest update

Field Day media release
Report: The value of making the transition to Lucerne grazing systems
Report: Developing systems for Flaxborne-Starborough [PDF 360KB]
Plant Integration Report [PDF 379KB]
The Starborough Flaxbourne Soil Conservation Landcare Group Project
Rediscovering the Green & Gold in Starborough/Flaxbourne [PDF 361KB]

Beyond Reasonable Drought - Adapting Dryland Farming to Climate Change - August 2008:

Project description

This project aims to change farmer attitudes and land management practices for farming dry land in Southern Marlborough. It is lead by a farmer management group based in the Starborough-Flaxbourne area.

The issue/opportunity

The Starborough Flaxbourne Soil Conservation Group is located in the Awatere/Seddon district of South Marlborough. This area is predominantly extensive pastoral farming, with an expanding viticulture industry on the river terraces, and some cropping on the better soils. Farmers in the area (approximately 66 properties covering 100,000 hectares) has received 30% less rainfall since 1997. The lack of rainfall is exacerbated by westerly winds and has lead to soil erosion, particularly from the northerly faces of hill country. Farmers have coped with the drought using a number of measures including de-stocking their farms, but its long-term impact has resulted in economic hardship for farming families and the whole Starborough-Flaxbourne community.

The context/background

Current farming practice may be exacerbating erosion, and there is an urgent need to identify and assess a range of options for long term sustainable management of fragile, dry country. It is critical the knowledge and expertise of local farmers is utilised to identify and develop these different options. Involving farmers from the outset of the project should ensure good levels of adoption of new management practices.


The Starborough Flaxbourne Soil Conservation project is designed to be driven by the community, linking science providers, farmers, and agencies on a regular basis with an emphasis on achievable, practical outcomes. Different parts of the farm system will be examined to ensure the new management options suit the economic, social and environmental aspects of a farm in the Starborough/Flaxbourne district. Farm system components are:

• Farm business modelling
• Pasture plants for dry-land farming
• Soil science
• Climate change
• Landscape issues
• Social issues

Six specialists who have a sound knowledge of each of these farm system components have been recruited to contribute to the project. A major part of the project will involve conducting trials on two ‘focus farms’. Potential farm management options will be modelled and tested, using real farm environments and incorporating farmer experience with input from the specialists.

Trial plots and focus farms are only part of the project. A range of workshops or field days are planned for the whole Starborough-Flaxbourne community as well as farmers. These workshops will be designed to help people to become aware of different farm management options which will ensure the long term sustainability not only of farms, but whole catchments. Project implementation will be supported by an end-user focussed communication strategy that includes media exposure and newsletters.


The unrelenting dry continues in Marlborough, and many farmers are facing difficult decisions. Doug Avery, Chairman of the soil conservation group, writes: “This place is extremely dry. In fact as dry as I have ever seen. I pray for rain sometime so the place is not a desert, but if it doesn’t, so be it.”

Involving children and learning “through doing” are other project spin-offs. Doug Avery has approached local schools and the Peter family, to inspire a planting day where local children participate in the process. Doug writes: “The area will be known as the John Peter block and will have public access”. It will remind me daily of John’s wonderful vision - “the integration of environmental, economic and social sustainability”.

The lessons learnt from coping with drought at Bonavaree will be part of the Rural Delivery programme, TV1, Saturday 5 April.

The significant achievements on Bonavaree will be showcased at a national drought field day on 14 May and at the International Grasslands Conference in October.

Update: March 2006

A workshop was held in early March on the Wither Hills Farm park to promote the benefits of establishing or enhancing vegetation for a whole farm landscape. Ten in depth, qualitative social science research interviews have been conducted with farmers in the district about their experiences of farming in a drought, and their thoughts about erosion and the best ways of mitigate it. The information gained through these interviews will be used to guide further communication and knowledge building strategies. Transect monitoring of the three trial plots on eroded hill faces is ongoing. Salt bushes and trial pasture plants in the Bonaveree plot have survived the summer well, and in many instances have flourished beyond expectation. Soil assessments have been conducted on one focus farm, and a monthly pasture growth assessment for both focus farms has been established. Farm systems models have been created for the two focus farms using Stockpol 6, and work is being undertaken to determine their past success, plus how they can continue to be successful. In the next quarter, meetings will be held to discuss how the different science providers can integrate their work to ensure optimum results for the project.

December 2005

The different science providers continue discussing with each other how their work can be integrated for optimum results for the project. Much of the work in this quarter has focused around developing farm systems models for the two focus farms. A workshop was held in early November by Graeme Ogle to obtain farmer feedback about issues concerning the productivity and profitability of farms in the district. Data sets have been gathered from each of the focus farm managers, which Graeme Ogle is beginning to analyse.

A good proportion of the salt bushes in the trial plots have survived the summer, and in some instances have flourished beyond expectation. A number of other plants have been identified as suitable for shade, shelter, and soil conservation.

Doug Avery, chair of the Starborough Flaxbourne Soil Conservation group has worked hard to give the project a high media profile, and has secured interviews with “Rural Delivery” (television), Rural News, and Country Life (National Radio). Articles have been printed in the Dominion Post, The Press, and Marlborough Express.