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Digital Initiative Keeps Northland Farmers Connected During Lockdown

Northland farmers are embracing the digital age as they respond to the dual challenge of the Covid-19 lockdown and the region’s severe drought conditions.

Extension 350 (E350), Northland Inc’s award-winning farmer-led and farmer-focused programme, is driving a digital initiative, which includes pilot video interviews with farmers, called “What’s on your mind?”, accessible via the programme’s YouTube channel.

The interview format encourages the farmers to share their thoughts on issues impacting their businesses, what specifically prompted these thoughts, and the process they expect to follow in developing and implementing responses to protect or enhance their businesses.

“E350 is all about providing a network for farmers, a place to share their stories and experiences, to enable positive things to happen in their businesses and their home lives – and the digital route is another way of making that happen, of finding another way through the challenges,” said Luke Beehre, Project Lead for E350.

“It’s vitally important during tough times like these that farmers share their resources, their information and what they’ve learned, to support each other, look after themselves and stay connected in any way they can.”

But it was also about farmers adapting to change, Beehre said, making use of all the tools at their disposal and honing invaluable new skills. “Digital technology is not, perhaps, something you might associate with traditional farming methods, and although some of us readily admit we are not experts, we’re more than happy to give it a go.

“The other day, for example, over 60 farmers participated in a DairyNZ Zoom conference, and you wouldn’t have expected that a few years ago. It proves that farmers can adapt and turn their hands to anything.

“It’s a new medium and we’re all learning and finding out what works – it’s a really positive thing for farmers to be doing, and to be responding to change in such a way. And, of course, it’s crucial in the current lockdown climate when we might otherwise become quite isolated in our rural areas.”

The videos build on work recently undertaken by E350 in conjunction with DairyNZ and Beef + Lamb NZ to provide a reference point for farmers battling the worst drought in years. The sector-wide collaboration enables farmers to share their responses by making weekly updates via the Northland Inc website, where they can record their current focus and actions.

Beehre added that, despite this unprecedented environment for farmers – the effects of the drought were, if anything, biting even harder than the lockdown – the message remained predominantly upbeat. “We feel privileged to be an essential industry during Covid-19 and to be able to continue in our jobs and support our communities; we know we are fortunate in that regard and feel very blessed.”

The pilot videos had already received an excellent response within the industry, he explained, and discussions were under way regarding further production. “The plan is that the videos will be promoted primarily to all E350 farmers via our YouTube channel and social media, and to farmers outside the programme as well.”

Chris Neill, who is on the E350 Governance Group and conducts the interviews on video, said: “We have farmers who’ve accepted the E350 challenge for on-farm change, openly sharing their thoughts about balancing profitability, environmental sustainability and their personal wellbeing.”

The five-year E350 programme is now past the halfway-mark and involves more than 330 farmers, with 10 clusters up and running, overseen by seven agri-consultants. Part of the Tai Tokerau Northland Economic Action Plan, E350 is supported by Northland Inc, the regional economic development agency, the Ministry for Primary Industries, Northland Regional Council, DairyNZ, and Beef + Lamb NZ.

To view the “What’s on your mind?” videos, visit:



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