Wednesday, 10 July 2019 14:55

How do we manage change?

Written by  Pam Tipa
Extension 350 target farmer, Lachie McLean (left) and menor farmer Dave Robinson. Extension 350 target farmer, Lachie McLean (left) and menor farmer Dave Robinson.

The dairy farming industry needs to keep thinking about what it can do differently in response to the big change coming at it, says Luke Beehre, project leader of the Northland Extension 350 (E350) programme.

How do we support one another and how do we manage change? asks the Northland dairy farmer and former bank manager.

“That change could be ensuring profitability, or how we look after each other, our own wellbeing or environmental sustainability.

“There are big things coming down the track for us,” he told Dairy News.

“We have to think of different ways of managing this stuff. There is a huge resource collectively across our industry. How do we bring people together and use our capability as a region?

“And we must ensure we partner well.” 

E350 aims to have 10 clusters each with five target farmers, 5-10 mentors and about five associates. Seven of those clusters are dairy farms. 

E350 currently has 33 dairy target farmers and 40-50 mentor dairy farmers because some target farmers have two mentors. There are also about 100 associates and more are welcome.

Key partners are MPI, DairyNZ, Beef + Lamb NZ, Northland Regional Council (NRC) and Northland Inc.  One aspect of their thinking is how they work with the NRC to deliver truly robust farm environment plans. “And how do we partner with industry -- with, say, Fonterra in Northland -- on supporting and jointly delivering those farm environment plans.

“And how do we ensure we are not just complying with what is happening today but have a forward looking mentality and are actually future proofing our business as best we can. We don’t know what is going to happen in 12, 18 or 36 months or whatever but we can start to take some steps.”

DairyNZ’s consulting officers are deeply engaged with E350 in facilitating some of the learning and “helping to challenge us on what we do and how we do things”.

While there are separate sheep and beef E350 clusters, there is crossover because Northland has many mixed use farms that have a component of beef. Ensuring the most appropriate land use is part of the conversation, says Beehre.

Whole farm assessment helps with business priorities. “It is saying, ‘hey what are some of the opportunities here?’ ”

E350 engages with target farmers over 3.5 years which is a long time for such a programme, says Beehre. 

“We recognise change takes time. A biological system is not like a factory where you change it from one day to the next.

“Farmers are inherently cynical and want to be able to test something before rolling it out. A 3.5 year project per farm enables farmers undergoing change to test it and bed it down in their practice. That’s so we don’t get to the end of E350 and have people go back to doing what they used to do because they haven’t learnt any other way.

“So E350 is intentional about that and some of the building blocks in a whole farm assessment, like a set of triage of the business.

“Farmers want plans that mark and measure those sorts of things, to help them understand what they want to do and put business plans together and goals and all that sort of stuff.”

Both mentors and target farmers are saying the programme is significant for their business. “Targets are in effect saying it has been an opportunity to benchmark, to analyse where they are going, why they are going there and how they are going to get there. 

“And, really importantly, to be able to do it together -- mums and dads, husbands and wives or whoever it might be. All of them have their dreams and aspirations on the table.”

E350 doesn’t just talk about production but about three planks: profitability, lifting environmental sustainability and improving farmer wellbeing.

“Those broad themes or pillars or planks -- the expectation is they are part of every kitchen table conversation.”

If you are driving profitability but everyone is falling apart you are not achieving what you want, Beehre says. 

The idea for E350 was conceived and born in Northland.

“E350 was built on three pilots studies: the Candys (DairyNZ focus farm) and lower and upper north partner farms. That was all about developing strategy and farmer to farmer learning and how to do that. 

“I am sure other peer to peer stuff has happened over time but that is where some of the ideas were honed.” 

Farmers have come in three groups: one just starting now, one a year ago and the first lot two years ago. 

With a full season under their belts the figures and financials are coming through and going into DairyBase and AgResearch is working with E350 to do the evaluations.

“We will have some hard evaluation of numbers and surveys and some softer analysis which is also a key.”

A team effort

The attribution in E350 has to go to the farmers, says Beehre. 

“They are the guys making change and we all know change is hard. They are the guys putting in the graft week on week to challenge themselves, think differently and implement change.

“The mentors don’t get paid. They are giving back to the industry by being involved in it. They often give significant amounts of time.

“But even the level of support we have had from our funding partners… without that funding it wouldn’t happen. You could have all the best ideas in the world but we just wouldn’t be able to get off the ground with it. 

“It is a team approach that everybody is contributing to and contributing above and beyond.”

In all the regions an opportunity still exists to be an associate farmer. “Associate farmers share the journey the target farmers are on and they have the opportunity to share back into what they are doing.”

Beehre says all involved in the project are learning all the time. 

“One of the benefits of having a longer project like this is that we can learn. In a very short project you sort-of ‘build your house’ and that’s it, you can’t learn from it. But if you build four houses one after another you actually learn from each house.” 

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