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Herekino beef farmers boosted by Extension 350 programme

A beef farming family on the scenic shores of Herekino are hoping to turn their farm around thanks to the work they are doing with Extension 350, a Northland-based farmer-to-farmer learning programme.

John and Sarah Hammond run a 903ha steer finishing and breeding operation on the isolated shores of the Herekino Harbour in the Far North.

The pair started working with Extension 350 (E350) in 2017 and so far, have increased stock numbers, developed an efficient beef system, created low-cost water and fencing solutions and made better use of their pasture.
They have also identified important focus areas to improve the environment and with the help of Northland Regional Council, are fencing these areas off.

E350 is part of the Tai Tokerau Northland Economic Action Plan and is supported by Northland Inc, Ministry for Primary Industries, Northland Regional Council, DairyNZ and Beef + Lamb NZ.
It is based on farmer-to-farmer learning and aims to lift farm profitability, environmental sustainability and farmer wellbeing.

The Hammonds, whose farm opened on April 4 as the first in the 2019 series of E350 public field days, came to the programme as they found their labour intensive farm wasn’t allowing for a work life balance, or giving them time to focus on farm growth.

“We work as hard as we can, probably a little bit harder than we should, and the opportunity for family and leisure activities was being eroded,” said Sarah Hammond.
“We were not utilising our budgeting tools as effectively as we could, which made it hard to see a way forward to improve our situation.
“We would often talk about plans for the future, but had no idea where to start. Our farming decisions were reactive, not proactive.”

She said the farm was environmentally fragile and the limited water sources hindered development.
E350 helped them look at increasing their income to generate funds for a labour unit.
They constructed a new dam last year too to take the pressure off the springs they use.
“We took a leap of faith and had a go - the dam filled quickly and we were able to utilise that water over the driest three months of the year just gone. There is still plenty of water in the dam now, despite the dry beginning to 2019.”
“It has been great to be able to have our mentors and advisor to help develop ideas. It’s useful to have people looking from the outside in at what you do, to get a different perspective.”

They have also set up an intensive beef system to increase productivity on part of the farm, and over the winter ran 50 Hereford/Friesian cross steer calves.
“This was a new class of cattle for us, and they seemed to perform well in this system. We have then used it to push our yearling commercial bulls along over summer and they have been achieving good weights at slaughter.
“It has also been interesting watching the pasture quality begin to improve,” she said.


Due to the farm ownership structure, the Hammonds were not able to extend their mortgage to fund any planned developments, but that has not deterred them.
“Everything we have achieved has been done on a shoestring budget, with careful financial management. This has been a challenge, but so far it has been possible and it’s a nice feeling knowing that when we reach our targets, we will not have extra debt hanging over us at the end of it.”

Their budgeting skills have improved and they have a better grasp of Cash Manager, and with better coding they can create future budgets and plan ahead to try and avoid surprises.
“The advice from our consultant was invaluable. Having someone who sees lots of farm budgets examining your tax summary is a life saver. We got good advice to help us navigate the tax minefield, and have a manageable amount of provisional tax.
“We are comfortably on track to have our stock numbers meet our current targets.”

She said she hopes that when the ground softens up more, they can put a beef system up on their plateau and they hope to employ some labour for two days a week in the near future, with this extending to a full time position in another 18 months.
“This will hopefully help us achieve our ultimate goal of more quality time for our family and leisure pursuits.”

Sarah said the E350 focus on idea sharing is invaluable, and seeing how similar ideas work on different style farms means there is something for everyone.
“While lots of farms look amazing as you drive past them, they all face unique and significant challenges and the sharing of ideas to help problem solve is really worthwhile.
“What you perceive from the outside, is often not how thing really are on the inside, and the collegiality and support gained from these events goes a long way towards helping farmers keep on top of the challenges they face.”

Farming is a lonely profession, she said.
“People can feel isolated, so it is reassuring to get together with like-minded people and find out they are in a similar situation, and then work together to move forward.
“People are one of our best resources, and probably the most under-utilised.”

Gareth Baynham, E350 Agribusiness Consultant, facilitates the Far North cluster of five sheep and beef target farms and mentors.
He said the Hammonds have a beautiful farm, but is large and takes up plenty of their time.
“One goal for them was freedom to spend more together time as a family and participate in off-farm interests, without feeling like it’s too busy.
“So they needed to increase profitability so they could employ someone.”

Working with their mentors, Herekino neighbouring beef farmers Don and Linda Lunjevich, has helped them identify opportunities and take action, he said.

The Lunjevich team ran a dairy farm in Takahue, which they have now sold on to their son Tony and his wife Briar, who had been share milking on the farm.

“Don has applied the lessons learned about pasture management to his beef farm at Herekino – increasing the number of paddocks and having a longer winter rotation, so it’s been great seeing Don and Linda explain the principles and implementation to John and Sarah on their E350 journey,” said Gareth.
“Don and Linda have also brought some good local knowledge and practical application on ways to get things done, which gives John and Sarah confidence to implement these on their own farm.”

He said Don and Linda also had fantastic advice on budgeting and managing cashflow.
“One of the comments from Don at the recent field day was that he could see most of the district from the top of the hill on his farm and in the winter the greenest grass he could see was on the block where John and Sarah had set up their efficient beef system.”
Mr Baynham said the farmers’ new water storage solution had given them confidence to develop the block with more paddocks and reliable water reticulation.

E350 has a number of upcoming field days, showcasing the programme and the work on farms.
The next event is at Lachie McLean’s dairy farm in Waipu on May 7, then the Agnew farm in Whakapara on May 28 and Will and Marianne Tyes’ farm in Awanui in mid-June, and a mid-north sheep and beef day, date to be confirmed.

Luke Beehre, E350 Project Lead said the programme offered target farmers an exciting opportunity to gain access to specialist support, mentoring and advice, as well as being provided with a forum for knowledge and information sharing.
“The farmer-focused initiative aims to assist farmers in achieving their goals and objectives through having open and honest conversations with their farming peers.”

E350 was established in 2016 and is aiming to get a total of 350 farmers involved across Northland.
The programme would see 50 target farmers work with 50 mentors. There would also be 250 associate farmers who learn from the target farmers’ journeys.
Mr Beehre said the programme was well on its way to meeting that target over the five years of the programme.

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