A brand new farming initiative – Extension 350 – is an innovative programme, the first of its kind for New Zealand. Designed to lift on farm performance through improving farm systems and profitability through shared knowledge.
The programme aims to have 350 Northland farms involved in four years and is modelled on having clusters of five farms working together with business advice and direction provided to a Target Farmer by an expert consultant, with that relationship encouraged by a Mentor Farmer. The expectation is that the Target Farmer similarly influences a group of Associated Farmers.
The pilot scheme which ran at Candy Farm in Okaihau from 2011 to 2014 saw local farmers Alister and Lyn Candy make management changes which have resulted in greater resilience and an increase in profits of around $180,000 per annum.
Extension 350 Chairman, Ken Hames, is highly enthusiastic about the initiative’s potential.
“This is a fantastic opportunity for Beef and Lamb, DairyNZ, Northland Inc and the Ministry of Primary Industries to work together to improve the region’s economy,” he says.
“Extension 350 has the ability to enhance farm systems to improve the profitability of the farms involved. Northland Inc has been of great assistance in having independent economic evaluation of a grass roots project which has encouraged other funders to seriously consider the proposition. For the farmer – profitability equals choices – such as the flexibility to make decisions about future on-farm improvements, repaying debt or improving livelihood.”
Alison Whiteford of Beef and Lamb NZ says the project aligns with their mantra of ‘by farmers, for farmers’.
“The project will engage skilled and profitable farmers with their peers who are eager to enhance their farm systems. The increasing economic and climatic volatility are challenging farmers to adopt practices to enhance their viability – we see Extension 350 as a significant contributor to address these challenges,” Alison says.
Chris Neill of DairyNZ added that he was pleased to have partnered with the Northland Dairy Development Trust to support the Focus Farm and Partner Farm pilot projects which have proven the power of farmers supporting farmers to make on farm change.
“Extension 350 is the next step of scaling up farmer driven initiatives to a large number of Northland farmers. We anticipate this programme will make a significant contribution to growing Northland’s economy.”
Julie Jonker, Chair of the Northland Agricultural Forum, likened the initiative to a business growth hub. “The Forum has promoted this initiative as agriculture sectors collective step forward in growing Northland’s economy. It is the agriculture equivalent of a business incubator which customises business coaching to provide the skills, clarity and support to grow.”
“Extension 350 is a priority project in the Tai Tokerau Northland Economic Action Plan and we believe it has the potential to change the way we farm by giving more farmers the tools and profitability to embed sustainable practices in their farm systems. That is why we were pleased to support the development of the business case” says Northland Inc Chief Executive David Wilson.