Finishing Line In Sight For First Extension 350 Farmers
Northland Inc’s award-winning Extension 350 celebrated a significant milestone this week as the project’s first three clusters approached the completion of their three-year journey of change, development, and opportunity.
Farmer-led and farmer-focused, Extension 350 (E350) kicked off in 2016 with the intention of getting a total of 350 farmers involved across Northland over a five-year programme.
The initiative aims to assist farmers in achieving their goals and objectives – profitability, environmental sustainability and wellbeing – through rigorous analysis and benchmarking, the sharing of information with their peers, and regular input from mentors, consultants and the E350 project team.
“The finishing line is now in sight for those first 15 farms and their journeys are almost done,” said Luke Beehre, Project Lead for E350. “The programme is all about providing a network for farmers, a place to share their stories and experiences, and to enable positive things to happen in their businesses and their home lives.
“It has been an exciting process of change, challenge and opportunity for those farmers who are coming to the end of their journeys, but let’s not forget it has also been one of extremely hard graft – not just for the target farmers, but for the mentors, advisors and project team alike. It has been a dynamic learning curve for us all.”
Many of those farmers shared their experiences, successes, visions, and challenges at a workshop – Farming into your Future – held at The Orchard, Northland Inc’s collaborative business and events hub, in Whangārei.
The feedback was predominantly positive, with many target farmers agreeing that the benefits, the solutions, and the knowledge they accrued had outweighed the challenges posed by the programme.
One of the farmer said that the “secret sauce of E350 was the mentors, and the experience and wisdom they bring; they help you to get through a roadblock and give perspective and confidence to act and plan”. There was consensus, too, that the support system was “fantastic for wellbeing”, helping to build a solid foundation of trust. The acquisition of budgeting skills and an increase in production and profit was another major benefit.
The challenges ranged from some climatic challenges for farmers, while others expressed concern at the scrutiny that came with the E350 Field Days. Some said they had experienced problems “sticking to our guns” if they found themselves in disagreement with their mentor. However, while difficult, these problems had invariably been worked through together.
Danny Woodcock, one of the mentors, believed that the programme had proved beyond doubt that “the farmer-to-farmer sharing and passing on of and ideas and information was by far the best way of learning in the industry”.
In summarising the workshop, Mark Paine, Managing Partner at KMP Partnership and a former Strategy and Investment Leader at DairyNZ, who played a key role in underwriting E350, said he was impressed with the confidence shown by farmers, the robust methods used to manage the journey, the respect for the goals, the legacy of leadership, and the influence of the programme beyond Northland.
“People are looking at E350 and taking note of the profound changes that are being made in this region.”
Beehre highlighted the engagement and collaboration between local, central government, the industry, farmers, and the project team as another crucial factor in the success of E350.
“This is often a real challenge in New Zealand across all sectors, so it’s been great that we’ve been able to work together, develop these relationships and have a genuine two-way conversation,” he said. “It has made a huge difference to the project and underlines the strength of working together.”
Beehre added that, although some farmers were completing the end of their E350 programme, the journey does not stop there. “E350 is just one of the many steps along the road for farmers.”
E350 is currently running a series of video interviews with farmers called “What’s on your mind?”, accessible via the programme’s YouTube channel. The interview format encourages 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.
In addition, Beehre said, the first E350 Field Day of 2020 was scheduled to take place on August 11. Field Days allow farmers to unlatch their gates, showcase the programme in action and share something of their journey along the way.
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.