2015 National Award Winners: Recipients of the Gordon Stephenson Trophy
John and Catherine own 1240ha Highlands Station – a productive and well-maintained hill-country farm south of Rotorua.
Sitting within the Lake Tarawera and Rotokakahi catchments, the farm’s distinctive contour was shaped by volcanic
activity which flattened forests, carved out hill faces and left the area covered in Phosphate-rich mud.
John’s father Allen began developing Highlands Station in the early 1930s and award judges noted the Ford’s “strong
family history of commitment to agriculture”.
Highlands Station has a “much loved feel” and its outstanding meat and wool production puts it among New Zealand’s
leading sheep and beef farming operations.
The Fords are very careful to manage the volcanic soils appropriately, with farm management practices matching the
capabilities and catchment of the land.
Highlands Station also has extensive native bush areas, including 140ha under QE II National Trust covenants.
John is passionate about minimising erosion on the challenging contour. A network of almost 200 retention dams has been
created to reduce run-off and scouring during heavy rainfall. This well-designed dam system also mitigates P loss. Stock
performance on Highlands Station is excellent.
Judges also praised John and Catherine’s “effective and outstanding staff management program”. The Fords are very aware
of encouraging and guiding staff. “We are the owners and take the financial risk but our staff produce the results which
make it viable,” says Catherine.
John and Catherine Ford from Rotorua are the National Ballance Farm Environment Award winners for 2015, the first time a
North Island farming business has won this award.
From ten outstanding regional supreme winners this large 1240ha sheep and cattle property stood out in terms of
environmental sustainability and impressive production and performance figures.
Highlands Station is situated within the Lake Tarawera and Rotokakahi (Green Lake) catchments so the careful and
responsible management of nutrient runoff was rated by the winners as one of their most critical on farm issues to get
The award judges were impressed with the deep knowledge shown by John and Catherine on techniques to achieve this
including the careful mix of stock and up to 200 detention dams built to slow down runoff and scouring from the hills
during heavy rainfall. Detaining water allows it to infiltrate the pervious pumice layer and substantially reduce the
runoff of phosphate into waterways and lakes.
Winning this National award is about ensuring that the business of farming sits comfortably beside environmental
sustainability. Highlands Station sheep and cattle production and profitability was rated in the top 5% in the country
with excellent stock in top class condition producing an impressive economic farm surplus.
Alongside this the judges saw wise and appropriate land use based on soil capabilities, extensive native bush reserves
with 140ha in QEII National Trust covenants and other bush areas protected with the Bay of Plenty Regional Council and
good shelter and shade for stock.
Staff relationships and management were excellent with John and Catherine very ready to seek external advice on any
issue when needed. The winners and the property had strong ties to their community and displayed a deep understanding of
a wide range of topics during the interview stage of the competition.
This Rotorua property had the ‘wow’ factor; it stood out as something special when visited by the judges.
John and Catherine are very worthy winners of the Gordon Stephenson trophy, and as the 2015 Ballance Farm Environment
Awards National Winners they will be excellent ambassadors. They have clearly demonstrated that profitable farming and
good environmental management go hand in hand.
The Gordon Stephenson Trophy
When Waikato farmer and conservationist Gordon Stephenson first mooted the idea for a farm environment competition in
1991 he had no idea just how successful the concept would become.
Gordon says the Farm Environment Awards were developed as a way to recognise farmers who were trying to balance farm
productivity with environmental protection. The Gordon Stephenson Trophy is awarded to a BallanceFarm Environment Award
Supreme Winner. The awardee will be recognised as an “Ambassador” for the promotion of sustainable and profitable