Rural professionals build skills to support farmers

A group of Canterbury rural professionals have joined forces to develop their skills in helping local farmers make positive changes on-farm.
Monday, 4 May 2020

The 12 rural professionals have come together as part of the Red Meat Profit Partnership (RMPP) Action Network Group initiative. This initiative brings together small groups to work towards a shared focus and goals.

For these Canterbury rural professionals, the Action Group model is providing an opportunity to achieve their own goals as facilitators and experts.

The group’s facilitator Richard Brown says the core objective for the group is to build the rural professional capability toolkit to help enable a sustainable future for farming.

“These young rural professionals are all very skilled people who are equally passionate about supporting farmers to help ensure the future of farming,” says Richard, an experienced business leader and trained RMPP Action Group facilitator currently working with a Tasman farmer-led Action Group.

“It’s a very effective forum for generating ideas and driving practice change because it’s about small groups. You put that into a facilitated setting and bring in subject matter experts; it’s a powerful model.

“For rural professionals in particular, it’s an effective way for them to test different styles and ways of working with farmers and fine tune their approach.”

Since the group was formed late last year, they’ve focused on building financial literacy and self-awareness and development, including inviting a panel of farmers into a session to reflect on communication styles.

“It’s provided an opportunity for rural professionals to practice having conversations with farmers and resulted in some key learnings, including the importance of organisation and communication in meeting with farmers.”

For group member Stevie Young, the northern South Island territory manager for Seed Force and a trained RMPP facilitator, joining the Action Group was a no-brainer.

“It’s a powerful forum to actually put everything I’m learning into practice and gives me more faith and confidence in what I’m doing. For example, when dealing with farmers I am now a lot more aware of how people perceive me and better able to adapt and be aware in connecting with different people.

“It’s also really refreshing and stimulating to deal with people in the agriculture sector outside of my realm of work across some really diverse areas like genetics.”

The group will also be exploring the role of diversification in the future of farming, with planned visits to farms that are diversifying with crops such as hemp and hops.

“It’s all contributing to our knowledge so we can help support farmers to be better.”

For Monica Schwass, ZQ project manager for the NZ Merino Company, who has also completed the RMPP facilitation training, it’s about building networks and gaining new skills.

“I am always looking for ways to extend my networks and build skills in order to support farmers in the best way possible. I found the farmer panel especially useful. It’s a great way to learn about the role farmers want us rural professionals to play, clarifying what we need to focus on.

“It’s also providing me with a broader understanding of the sector as everyone in the group has very different skillsets and that widens your focus.”

Likewise, for Genevieve Steven, a rural enterprise consultant for KPMG in Ashburton and an experienced Action Group facilitator, who is currently working with three farmer-led Action Groups in the wider Canterbury region.

“I am just really keen to connect with like-minded rural professionals. It is a great platform for stimulating conversations with people who are passionate about supporting farmers. Action Groups are also an opportunity to step away from the workplace into a focused environment that is small enough for everyone to contribute and ask questions of experts.

“The beauty is in having a facilitator to keep us on track and action focused. Our facilitator Richard also brings a whole new skillset to the group with a different background. It’s really helpful for me to see his facilitation style.”

Genevieve says the experience is helping reaffirm what she is already doing and given her more confidence and self-awareness, which is useful for adjusting to different groups.

“Overall, I believe that Action Groups are really important right now, at a time when the agricultural sector is facing so many different pressure points. They provide a great support vehicle for farmers and a way for rural professionals to keep up with the science and solutions¬¬ – and build confidence and expertise to keep supporting our farmers.”

ENDS

RMPP is a seven-year Primary Growth Partnership programme that is working to help the red meat sector increase productivity and profitability.

The programme is funded by ten partners – government and private sector (Ministry for Primary Industries, ANZ, Alliance, ANZCO, Beef + Lamb New Zealand, Blue Sky Meats, Greenlea Premier Meats, Progressive Meats, Rabobank and Silver Fern Farms).

RMPP works alongside farmers and sector businesses to develop, test and introduce new ways of engaging with information and technology.