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Downstream to dollarsMike and Sharon Barton

Innovative farming couple, Michael and Sharon Barton are leading the way in protecting water quality on their 142 hectare farm at Tihoi, near Taupō in the central North Island. Their efforts earned them the Supreme title in the 2014 Ballance Farm Environment Awards, as well as the soil management award and innovation award.

The Bartons know how important good water quality is in our rivers and streams – and how it impacts on the lakes these tributaries flow into. They understand not only how water quality affects their property and its habitat for plants and animals, but also how what happens in one area of the catchment can directly affect what happens in another.

When Sharon and Mike first began improving their property, many of their efforts were aimed at water quality protection. Mike also joined the farmer group, Taupō Lake Care. The group represents 95 percent of the private and Māori group-owned farms in the identified catchment area. More recently, Mike became a trustee on the Lake Taupō Protection Trust, an organisation working with people and organisations in the area to reduce the Taupō catchment’s nitrogen output. Working with others on common goals has also connected the Bartons with their local and wider community.

As part of their early water quality efforts, the Bartons didn’t just follow the rules – they got involved in the actual development of farming rules for the Taupō catchment as well. Now their farm is also involved in trials of new low nitrogen leaching farming methods.

Keeping an eye on regular water quality monitoring by the Waikato Regional Council is also a focus for the Bartons and other landowners in the region. This information helps everyone involved to identify where there are issues so they can catch any changes early and work together to respond to them where necessary.

Between 2004 and 2013, water quality for ecological health at 10 Waikato River monitoring sites has been mostly stable and it’s generally good across the region overall. However, it’s poorer in areas where land use is more intensive (for example, Hauraki and the lowland tributaries of the Waikato River).

A sustainable and healthy environment through good water quality management is just one benefit though. On the business front, good environmental practice has also enabled the Bartons to establish their own Taupō Beef brand. Now they sell their meat directly to high-end restaurants keen to source top quality meat grown in an environmentally sustainable way. So, the ground-breaking Bartons are not only protecting water quality on their land, they’re proving that environmentally sustainable farming can reap economic rewards too.

Read other stories from people living in our region.