Advance Parties gaining traction

Deer Industry NZ is fielding an upsurge in the number of farmers wanting to join an Advance Party (AP).

These are an innovative concept, designed to get deer farmers to encourage and support each other in adopting management practices that will make their farms more profitable.

There are nine APs underway, as part of a three-year trial of the concept. One of the nine is developing tools or ‘metrics’ that farmers can use to measure the performance of their deer businesses. The rest are on-farm groups located from Hawke’s Bay to Southland.

“One of the big outcomes we want are case studies, detailing what individual farmers have done to change management practices on their farms, along with the results. So we require participants to measure and record performance before and after they make any management changes,” coordinator Amy Wills says.

“The data will come, but as the farmers keep telling me, you make a management change on your farm and it’s normally at least a year before there is a measurable result.”

Nevertheless, the farmer participants – most of whom have now been involved for 12-18 months – are reporting major benefits. Not just in getting insights from other farmers, but in the confidence that comes from being part of a group with like-minded farmers, sharing private business information and exploring new ideas.

John Falconer, Ranfurly, says APs are a huge step up from discussion groups, with a lot of open figures and “nowhere to hide”.

“A few guys in our group, myself included, thought they weren’t bad deer farmers. But realistically when you get other people unpicking your business you find there’s a lot of room for improvement. We had a gaping hole in the middle of our business that I never saw and I don’t think I would have seen if I hadn’t been involved.”

APs were developed following a 2012 review of on-farm productivity, which noted that average fawning rates and carcase weights had been static for more than two decades. There was also a growing gap between average and top performers, which indicated that the problem was not a lack of technology, but enabling farmers to adopt it.

“Advance Parties are only one element of the deer industry’s Passion2Profit strategy, but they are a very important one. Each AP project is tailored to an individual farmer’s objectives and business goals. So we are seeing farm system changes being made at a faster rate than if people were to simply read about it in a magazine, mainly because they have a higher level of trust in their fellow farmers who are offering the advice,” Wills says.

The consensus among AP participants is that expansion of the initiative would need to come through the establishment of new APs, rather than trying to bring new participants into established groups.

Wills says she has requests for groups to be established in South Otago, North Canterbury, Waikato and two or more south and east of the Volcanic Plateau. There is also a proposal for an Elk/Wapiti group in Canterbury. She asks farmers in these regions to get in contact if they are interested in hearing more about the programme so meetings can be organised.

“Outside those areas I also urge farmers to get in contact, as we will work through the regions where there is demand and establish more APs throughout the year.”

Contact Amy Wills by email amy.wills@deernz.org or phone 04-471 6110.

Supplied by DINZ.

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