Research confirms that most farmers want to see a new idea working on another farm before trying it themselves. But many don’t get past thinking about it. The same research says they need the ongoing support and encouragement from other farmers, mentors or advisers before taking the plunge – particularly if money has to be invested.
The findings feature in an evaluation of 75 farmers taking part in the Red Meat Profit Partnership’s (RMPP) pilot farms extension project, which is trialling different approaches to deliver information in a way that works for farmers. The project is researching how best to support farmers to make changes to increase lift farm profitability.
More than half of the farmers surveyed (55 percent) said farmer mentors and farm consultants providing specialist advice had given them the confidence to make changes to their farm systems. Meanwhile, nearly half of the farmers (48 percent) said enlisting the help of experts had sped up their decision to embark on changes – on average, almost three years sooner.
This week (6 & 7 March), farmers and rural professionals involved in the extension project and those businesses involved in the high performing farmer research have descended on Christchurch to workshop how we can help roll out successful extension approaches to our wider red meat sector.
Michael Smith, general manager of RMPP, says although some sheep and beef farmers may be apprehensive at the prospect of investing in their businesses, the research showed the financial outlay would pay off.
“While this evaluation looks at key production numbers, more critically it is the financial bottom line that really matters. Farmers reported they would now invest in further expert advice to help drive decision-making because the value of that expertise was clear. This expertise has also lead to more confidence in making those decisions.
“Encouragingly, some of the changes we have seen on-farm have also been transformational. For example, implementing a comprehensive business system into the farm to monitor everything from finances, stock recording, grazing, to soils and fertiliser. We have also seen smaller tweaks to farm systems which have also increased farm profits.
As part of the extension project, pilot farmers are working with their meat processors, building stronger relationships and understanding better processors’ and customers’ needs. They also work with other pilot farmers in small groups to challenge and support each other as they implement new ideas.
These farmers are also learning from their peers with visits to high-performing farms in different locations and building mentoring relationships.
Southland farmer Peter Horrell, a top performing farmer, has been mentoring Tuatapere farmers Nathan and Marilyn Parris.
He believes that a willingness of farmers like Nathan and Marilyn Parris to change is the reason improvements have been possible.
“A lot of people don’t have independent advice around the kitchen table and when I looked at the data about how farmers learn off other people, I thought hard about that data and saw a place for professional advice and practical experience. The combination has worked really well in the trial.”
“It’s about practical skills combined with local knowledge. When you have the right people in the room working with farmers – and the personalities gel – then change can occur.”
Vicki and Leveson Gower, sheep and beef farmers in Waikato, have also begun using consultants to expand their knowledge and improve the performance of their farm.
“We have found them to be very effective. We are keen to continue using them as the cost of this advice is more than covered by improved confidence and performance.”
Smith says the red meat sector has invested heavily in improving the uptake of knowledge over the years with varying success.
“Our aim has been to understand farmers’ motivation and needs rather than assuming we know best and telling them what they should do. Every farm and farmer is different and this means finding what works best for them.
RMPP will use what it has learnt from the pilot farms to identify which approaches are effective in supporting profitable farming system changes in a much wider roll-out to other farmers who want to participate.
The next challenge for RMPP, says Smith, is to scale up to allow the opportunity for all farmers to be involved in order to achieve higher profitability for the whole industry.
“This programme is not about telling farmers what to do. It’s about creating an environment where farmers can learn from each other, share what works, utilise expertise, embrace change and make more informed business decisions for the future of their business and their family.”
RMPP is a seven year Primary Growth Partnership programme working to help the red meat sector increase productivity and profitability. Funded by 10 partners – government (Ministry for Primary Industries) and private sector (ANZ, Alliance, ANZCO, Beef + Lamb New Zealand, Blue Sky Meats, Greenlea Premier Meats, Progressive Meats, Rabobank, Silver Fern Farms), it works alongside farmers and sector businesses to develop, test and introduce new ways of engaging with information and technology.