“Change is one of those things that most of us know we have to go through but a lot of us fear it – particularly in agriculture,” says farmer Fraser Avery.
“A lot of people run off ‘Dad’s diary’ and go through the motions. What I like about being part of the Red Meat Profit Partnership’s National Action Group is that you have a group of farm businesses that are excited about change. We don’t fear it, we are actively looking for it.”
The Red Meat Profit Partnership (RMPP) National Action Group is one of many groups within the RMPP Action Network. The network model supports small groups of seven to nine farm businesses to work together to explore ideas and share expert resources to help them to make positive changes on-farm.
The national group features farmers from seven different regions across the country. Members are focused on enabling and enhancing their own farm businesses and helping the wider sector to move forward too. A key goal is to challenge one another to make change, grow in confidence to employ new practices and share their learnings among the group and within their wider farming communities.
National Action Group facilitator Heather Collins says top performing farmers benefit from extension too.
“When you are a top performing farmer in your area, everyone looks to you. But who gives back to those top performers, who challenges and who pushes them?
“The members of this group are looking for something a bit different – challenges, communication with people from outside their areas and conversations about the bigger picture, beyond pastures and soil.”
Wairarapa farmers Becks and Richard Tosswill were looking for something ‘bigger picture’, to help them take their business further and to learn from farmers from other regions.
“We are a group of people who think outside the farm gate to improve ourselves and that is at a business level and a strategic level,” says Becks. “Talking with one another helps to give us confidence around trying different farming approaches. That collective thought process with like-minded people is really valuable.”
A two-day National Action Group event, held in Christchurch, included workshops with professional director and leadership coach Chris Bailey, founder of Macpac and chair of Sevenoaks School and Holistic Education Trust Bruce McIntyre, managing director of distribution solutions experts Zend Bruce McEwen and Paul Bingham, executive chairman of digital marketing platform Shuttlerock. The group also visited the NZ Merino Company.
Canterbury farmer Annabel Craw said she found this aspect of the programme particularly valuable.
“It really blew me away that we shoulder-tapped some pretty exceptional businesses and how willing they were to share their time and insights and experience. It was a real privilege to sit down and have really honest open chats with people we would never normally have the opportunity to meet.
“What really came across to me from those speakers was that when you see an opportunity, you should have a go at it, take some risks and be brave. You don’t necessarily have to have all the ducks lined but, but back yourself, take those opportunities, really get stuck in and give it your all. It may lead to some unknowns but to some exciting things as well.”
Central Otago farmer Nick Garden also found hearing from successful businesses outside of farming very useful.
“One of the messages that came through really strongly for everyone, and that applies to many businesses, is the importance of culture to help engage with our staff,” he says. “Learning lessons outside of agriculture and how other businesses have achieved that has been really insightful.”
Facilitator Heather says group members and other businesses have willingly taken part because they recognise the importance of moving the sector forward, for the benefit of individual farm businesses and for New Zealand as a whole.
“People want to give up time to do this, because they realise the value of this group and can sense the potential and they want to share what they have learnt, to help the group grow and for the group to share what they have learned with other farmers.”
While it is fairly early days for the group, they are already sharing learnings among the wider farming community.
“I find myself referencing what’s coming out of the group on a weekly basis,” says Hawke’s Bay farmer Ben Absolom. “Whether it is at our board structure or to other farmers in the district, to talk about how important it is to do this sort of thing, in order to move your business forward.”
All the group members say they feel supported by being part of an RMPP Action Group.
“We are a bunch of strong independent businesses,” says Wairarapa farmer Andy Freeman. “Like tall trees, because of this group, rather than being strong and isolated and getting buffeted, we have support. We still have to do our own growing, but we are massively stronger because of it.”