At least 59% of the public surveyed has a favourable opinion of dairying and 90% of media coverage of dairying is positive/neutral.
The overall project will have seven dairy clusters, with two starting this year. Next year another three will start and the final two in the third year.
“We are at the front end of rolling out the overall project,” Chris Neill, DairyNZ regional leader, Northland told Dairy News.
“Within each cluster you have five target farms – the guys who will go on a journey of change – and matched with each of those target farms we have a mentor.
“They sit at the hub of each of those clusters which are geographically positioned. Each combination of target farmers with a mentor has five associated farmers with them. They agree to go on the journey and follow more closely what is happening with, and for, the target farmer as they go through their three years with the project.
“Each target farmer has a mentor and each has five farmers with them. So with each cluster you have 35 farmers – a broad reach which is the aim of the project.”
Each cluster on the dairy side has a consultant and a DairyNZ consulting officer assigned to the project.
The two clusters kicking off this year are one north and one south of Whangarei with farms ranging from 100 to 400 cows; the Northland average dairy herd is just over 300.
“For each target farm we do a whole farm assessment which means the team goes in – the consultant, the DairyNZ consulting officer and the mentor,” says Neill.
“They look at all aspects of the business and talk to the target farmer about their vision, goals and what they want to achieve. Then in comparing where the business is today to where the farmer wants to go, the team come up with a plan with the target farmer as to what they can do to help them get to that point.
“What we generally find is that most things come down to making sure the business is more profitable or as profitable as it can be, which then allows the target farmer to achieve their goals and aspirations.
“It comes down to understanding with each one of these target farms where they want to go. So we are not coming in and saying ‘this what you have to do; it is understanding where you want to go and let’s help you get there’.”
The project is funded and supported by MPI, Northland Regional Council, DairyNZ and Beef + Lamb NZ.
“The reason we backed it is we believe there is opportunity here to improve profitability – we expect that will be the farmers’ goals – but the flow-on from that will benefit the whole region.
“Extension 350 sits under the economic development strategy for Northland.
“It is early days for these target farmers; they are coming to grips with what they put their hand up for. There will be an annual public field day for each cluster.”
The participants in each cluster will also privately get together and talk about where they are at, what they are doing and will support each other as the project progresses.
The three aspects of Extension 350 are profitability, sustainability and farmer wellbeing.
MPI says Extension 350 is an innovative farmer-led and farmer-focused mentoring and extension programme that aims to work with 350 Northland farms within five years to improve their onfarm performance and environmental sustainability.
A sheep and beef cluster has also been set up this year in addition to the two dairy.
Overall four more clusters are planned for 2018, and another three in 2019.
Ben Dalton, head of the regional growth programme at MPI, says Extension 350 will influence local pastoral farmers to perform better. Any improvement in profitability has the scale to greatly improve the Northland community’s economy.
“Research shows farmers accept advice much more readily from successful farmers and Extension 350 builds on previous similar initiatives aimed at farm transformation,” Dalton says.
“Being profitable allows farmers the flexibility to make decisions that support longer-term goals for onfarm improvements, debt repayment, managing succession and improving their livelihood.”
Ken Hames, Extension 350 steering group chairman, says pastoral farming is a billion dollar industry in Northland.
“The region has about 2000 pastoral farmers, however studies and industry benchmarking have shown there’s room for Northland’s pastoral sector to improve, based on the levels of resources and the high numbers employed in the sector there.”
Extension 350 is part of the government’s Regional Growth Programme, co-led by MPI and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment; it aims to increase jobs, income and investment in regional NZ.