Former AgResearch scientist, Ian Knowles, likes to lead from the front when it comes to sheep and plant trials and comparative experiments on his diverse hill country farm.
He farms about 4000 ewes and 1000 hoggets at Glenmark Springs and most of the genetics have come out of trial mobs he still runs to find out what works and what doesn't.
"Also with the plant genetics, if there's anything new or novel, I'm pretty keen to get a couple of hectares in to see what it looks like on the farm," he says.
The 2023 Canterbury Ballance Farm Environment Awards supreme winner has done extensive fertiliser trials too.
“For four or five years I ran fertiliser trials on two different sites on the property with all the conventional fertilisers and also comparing them with more natural type products, like seaweed-based fertilisers.”
He found natural fertilisers to be a lot more unpredictable than chemical products.
“You're seeing some results you weren't expecting and then often you weren't getting the results that you were hoping for. Sometimes it would take maybe 18 months or two years to see a result,” he says.
Environmental stewardship is a key part of Ian’s land management plan.
To stop soil erosion, 35 hectares of steep or uncultivable land has been planted in poplar poles, and at the back of the farm, he's even planted a fruit orchard around a drafting yard.
There are some scenic surprises dotted around the dryland property that Ian’s parents purchased 20 years ago.
Native gullies that have never been developed divide the steep hills, and large outcrops of limestone rocks jut out of summer-parched land.
Some of the outcrops are archaeological sites as they contain examples of Māori rock drawings.
"There's 26 individual drawings that have been noted and reported on and there may be more but some of the areas are not that easy to get to," he says.
An iwi covenant or kawenata ensures they stay the way they are.
Not far away in a paddock are a herd of lanky ostriches.
Ian has about 40 on his farm and the two breeding groups have started laying eggs.
“They tend just to find a bit of dirt and start laying, but on the hill country the eggs do tend to roll around a bit!”
Last year's chicks, which are now as big as their parents are sharing the grazing duties with the sheep.
“The only challenge we have for the young birds is keeping them warm and dry until they're big enough to look after themselves, and after that, they're pretty much bulletproof.”
He is not sure yet if he will farm them commercially for their meat.
“If you don't have a market for the product, there's no point in really multiplying them up. So, at the moment, we're a wee bit in limbo.”