Driving change on some of our most remote farms

Ruby Mulinder, Red Meat Profit Partnership Action Network facilitator and FarmWise Consultant at LIC, visited the Chatham Islands to support those farming on one of the country's most remote locations.
Monday, 23 November 2020

Article written by Ruby Mulinder, Red Meat Profit Partnership Action Network facilitator and FarmWise Consultant, LIC

I’m one of those people who ideas often come to at night – and it was a 2am thought that struck me – had farmers on our most remote islands had the opportunity to benefit from one of our most effective extension programmes?

I have been a facilitator for the Red Meat Profit Partnership Action Network for one and a half years. The RMPP Action Network model supports small groups of seven to nine farm businesses to work together to explore ideas and share expert resources to help them make positive changes on-farm. Kick-start funding of up to $2,000 per farm business is pooled to fund facilitation and expertise.

I’m based in the South Waikato and was already facilitating two RMPP Action Groups but my family has farming contacts in the Chatham Islands.

From my knowledge of the Action Group model, I felt it could add value to this remote community of farmers that face a number of agricultural challenges not experienced by the average farmer in New Zealand.

So, in February 2020 I found myself on a very charming but bulky looking plane – that one day soon could feature in a museum - coming in to land at Tuuta Airport, Chatham Islands.

It’s open, expansive country wrapped around a network of large lagoons and sculpted by the mighty Pacific Ocean and coastal winds. It is an island of character and you are bound to feel as weathered as one of the windswept trees if you are out in the elements on a gusty day.

The RMPP Action Network was created to engage red meat farmers in structured and facilitated Action Groups to focus on specific topics the group wants to explore.  These groups are about connections, sharing the knowledge that is already in the room, as well as tapping into experts to help provide in-depth knowledge on specific subject matter.

Having established an RMPP Action Group on the island, it didn’t take long to realise that farmers faced a number of farming challenges that needed to be clearly understood before being able to identify solutions that would be fit for purpose.

The farm land is primarily made up of clay and peat soils. Low pH levels – as low as 4.4 – are a fundamental issue. However, there are deposits of lime on the island and by exploring the options to crush this product, it could be used more effectively in future, something the group is keen to focus on.

Freight costs for product and livestock make up a large portion of farms’ annual working expenses. The Action Group has identified a more collaborative approach to bulk buying as one way that product can be sourced more competitively – and are in the process of setting up a system.

The island also grows a healthy crop of gorse, with small pockets of mature and regenerating native. There are also small areas of pine and macrocarpa, planted post-1990 as a timber source. With this in mind, we engaged experts to support us in identifying if there were Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) opportunities. The farms within the group have had historical vegetation maps created, with a number now exploring the prospect of joining the ETS, due to existing carbon sinks.

This farming group see a true value in biodiversity and prefers to focus on native woodlots that either naturally regenerate or are planted.  Retiring and planting areas strategically has also been discussed, as it will provide shelter and shade for livestock on properties which are exposed to the elements.

These are only a handful of the subjects that have been explored and discussed to date. As farmers, it is important to focus on taking control of what happens inside our farm gates. However, as a group of farmers on the Chathams, there is also a real opportunity to work collectively to help overcome some of the external impacts that challenge this remote farming community.

I look forward to seeing the outcomes we can drive from our Action Group.

Who doesn’t enjoy a good challenge?