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The first clusters of the innovative Northland Extension 350 programme will start on June 1, says Hames.
In year one, a sheep and beef cluster will get underway in the Far North and two dairy clusters will be running, one near Kerikeri and one around Whangarei south.
Hames, a beef farmer from Paparoa, who also has shares in a dairy farm with another couple near Wellsford, told the Northland Dairy Development Trust annual meeting what they have seen happen up north on the partner farm of Alister and Lyn Candy.
A group of farmers got together to form a management team and with the Candys made decisions that resulted in an $180,000 increase in annual profit. Now two further partner farms are benefiting from this approach.
With Extension 350 they plan to set up 10 clusters in Northland over the next three-five years, he says.
“At the centre of a cluster is a mentor farmer -- an experienced farmer who has the skills and abilities to pass on knowledge to the target farmer.
“The target farmer will be at a stage in their career where they are willing to learn and take on new ideas and the farm is at a stage where he or she is receptive to improvements.
“Alongside the target farmers will be five associate farmers who will go on the journey of what the target farmers are doing and take what they learn back to their own farms. Each target team will have a consultant who will help them on the journey and give advice as needed.
“What will happen on the target farms will be similar to what happens on the partner farms and whole farm assessments. We will put all that in place to help them. Each cluster will run for three years.
“Over the period of the project there will be seven dairy clusters and three sheep and beef clusters.”
For the first three clusters they have 80% of the mentor farmers in place and a number of target farmers.
The investment in the project is about $3.45 million; the target farmers will be asked to fund 11% of it, Beef + Lamb NZ is putting in 6%, DairyNZ 17%, Northland Regional Council through Northland Inc is putting in 24%, and about 42% is funded by MPI.
“Farmers are getting great leverage for their investment,” says Hames. “It is really good to see farmers with a project out there that can attract all this funding.”
A Nimmo-Bell report shows a substantial gain from that investment in the Northland economy over 20 years, he says. They have modelled several scenarios and predicted gains to the Northand economy of at least $100m over 20 years. “That is substantial for the farmers and Northland.
“As we set the clusters up geographically over the next three years I’d ask that you get involved as a mentor, target or associate farmer,” he told the meeting. “We need your support to make it work.”
A project manager, Luke Beehre, has been employed. He is a former dairy farmer and banker. He will be the day-to-day face, along with DairyNZ regional leader Chris Neill and Beef + Lamb NZ extension manager Alison Whiteford.