Success of pilot farms could see them rolled out across New Zealand

The success of a Red Meat Profit Partnership project on 75 pilot farms which could see it expanded to sheep and beef farms across New Zealand. Tony Benny reports.

Tuatapere, Southland, pilot farmer Marilyn Parris adds her suggestion to the list during a "designed thinking" workshop ...
Tony Benny

Tuatapere, Southland, pilot farmer Marilyn Parris adds her suggestion to the list during a "designed thinking" workshop at the RMPP farmers forum.

The Red Meat Profit Partnership brings together six meat processors, MPI and two banks in a seven-year Primary Growth Partnership charged with improving profitability and productivity in the red meat sector.

One RMPP projects involves 75 pilot farms where small groups of farmers are brought together to work on new ideas to improve their bottom line, sometimes bringing in consultants to assist and sometimes roping in high-performing farmers as mentors.

The idea is to find the most effective ways to deliver information to farmers and more importantly how to get them to act on the good ideas rather than just think about them. Research shows they respond best when they see it working on another farm and peer pressure in small group of fellow farmers helps too.

Facilitator Victoria Westbrooke works with farmers to find out what they think would improve the RMPP pilot farm programme.
Tony Benny

Facilitator Victoria Westbrooke works with farmers to find out what they think would improve the RMPP pilot farm programme.

"It builds confidence and you also get a kick up the arse because there's a bit of a work together approach and commitment that we're going to make this change on our farms," says RMPP board chairman Malcolm Bailey.

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Farmers from 75 pilot farms plus rural professionals gathered at a forum in Christchurch to discuss progress so far as ...
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"When you next meet a month later, they go, 'Bob and Jane, how's yours going?'.

If you say, 'Oh we didn't get started', people say, 'Why not? You're kind of letting the side down'.

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"Your results from what you're doing are important because this is part of the whole team validation."

RMPP manager Michael Smith says farmers involved have improved their profitability and he believes there's scope to roll the model out across New Zealand.

"One of the things we have done with farmers is baseline their financial results at the start and at the end of every year for the three years we will grab the financial results as well.

"There's got to be something to measure and there've been some fantastic financial results so far."

"We've pulled a few things that have really worked out of those pilot programmes and there looks like there's something here that we can really roll out across New Zealand while we've got the opportunity to do so within the programme," Smith says.

Just how best to do that is still being worked on and farmers and rural professionals involved were asked for their ideas on that at forum in Christchurch this week. As well as hearing speeches from the leadership, participants were broken into small groups, each with a facilitator to help draw out their ideas to help shape what happens next in the RMPP programme.

"Some of the farmers have been thinking about that for a while now and we're keen to pressure cook it – how do we roll this thing out?" says Smith.

As well as the pilot farm programme, RMPP has a variety of other projects including "Data-linker" which aggregates multiple sources of information so that it can be easily accessed by farmers.

"You can manage how that is used but it's powerful and my belief is it's just going to go exponentially and this is all data that farmers can use to refine their farm performance and be more efficient and get better results," says Bailey.

Also in development is an "information hub" to give farmers easy access to the information they need, for example about genetics.

"You can go into this, almost a one-stop-shop for information, find something on genetics and work your way into it so rather than having to read a great big document, there could be a video clip of a scientist talking about how genetics might work across your flock to improve your overall genetic base," Smith says.

Getting access to words of wisdom from farm system experts like well-known scientist Tom Fraser will also be possible.

"We've got a number of three or four minute video clips of him talking about particular aspects of farming systems so he doesn't need to be everywhere at once, we can share him with everyone at the same time.

"Some of our farmers testing it said it's almost like being at a workshop with Tom in the room."

RMPP has also contributed resources to a programme put together by the Agri-Women's Development Trust called "understanding your farm business for women", which has proved a hit.

The course covers bench-marking, understanding farm financials and business planning.

"We've got some interesting video footage of various couples where she's been on this course and he's now getting bombarded with all these questions when he comes back at the end of the day but every single male involved acknowledges that it's been for the absolute benefit of the farming operation," Smith says.

"In fact a lot farmers have said at the end of it, it's like a big weight has come off their shoulders as well, because while she may not be involved in the physical day-to-day activity, she actually understands what's going on and what they're trying to achieve overall."

 - Stuff

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