In the year 2000, Taupo Catchment farmers (farmers from an area surrounding Lake Taupo whose runoff / nitrogen will eventually enter the lake) were told by authorities/council that the nitrogen from stock urine was going to potentially damage the ‘water quality’ of Lake Taupo.
In the 1980’s these farmers had fenced off their waterways and riparian planted to protect the lake, but now they were being told that science had changed and was now revealing that that planting stopped ecoli, phosphorous and sediment from entering the lake BUT not nitrogen! Nitrogen from stock urine goes down through the free-draining soil and will eventually enter the lake and may cause algae blooms which could affect the water clarity. Therefore, it was necessary to stop any intensification around the lake.
In disbelief, due to Lake Taupo being one of the cleanest lakes in the world, farmers agitated for more scientific research to continue within the Taupo Catchment to prove that agriculture/food production was really the problem. A permanent underground laboratory was established by Landcare Research on Mike and Sharon Barton’s farm to measure the nitrogen leaching from their property and ways to mitigate their environmental footprint.
Taupo Catchment farmers accepted a ‘cap’ on livestock numbers and it was decided by all stake-holders that the amount of nitrogen that entered the lake needed to reduce by 20% in order to protect the lake. Close to 30% of farms were converted to forestry (a low nitrogen land use) through the work of the Taupo Protection Trust. Those converted farms must stay in forestry for the next 999 years in order to protect the lake for future generations.
In accepting a cap in perpetuity on our livestock numbers, limiting our production in perpetuity, and realising the economic implications of the nitrogen cap, Mike and Sharon Barton, with the aid of the Lakes & Waterways Action group decided to brand their beef from the Taupo Catchment to see whether consumers would be willing to pay a premium for ‘top quality’ produce that protected the lake. By paying a premium, consumers are contributing to the costs of protecting Lake Taupo.
The farmers in the Taupo Catchment are now working under a catchment-wide model. Farmers are audited annually by Waikato Regional Council to ensure they are operating under the nitrogen limit. This allowed the council to create New Zealand’s first and only 'environmental tick’ that verifies those farmers who are fully compliant with the environmental rules, that ensure Lake Taupo’ water quality is absolutely protected. For more information see here. This environmental endorsement confirms these farmers have accepted a cap on the livestock they carry and will manage their farming operations under strict external monitoring to ensure Lake Taupo’s excellent water quality is absolutely protected.
Based on outstanding initial feedback in 2011, Mike and Sharon Barton founded the Taupo Beef: 'Grown Right Here’ brand. It was a joint initiative between Taupo catchment farmers and the Lakes & Waterways Action Group Trust, and supported by Waikato Regional Council, Enterprise Taupo, and Destination Great Lake Taupo.
Taupo Beef is verifiably produced in a way that preserves the water quality of Lake Taupo for generations to come – a first for NZ. Our aim was to ‘grow’ a brand which would allow us to take on more farmers within the Taupo catchment and gain a premium that would hopefully allow these farmers to stay in business. As demand for Taupo Beef grows, additional farmers will be needed to supply the required cattle. Only farms within the catchment that are compliant with the new environmental rules can be validated by Waikato Regional Council’s ‘environmental tick’ and be involved in the Taupo Beef & Lamb brand.
Taupo Beef has really resonated with customers throughout the North Island and has won numerous awards and accolades (see Awards) The Sustainable Business Network’s Supreme Award for “ The Business Making the Greatest Contribution to a Sustainable New Zealand” in 2015 is perhaps the one we are most proud of.