The Otago-based Bruce District Action Group is transitioning to a self-funded group now that the Red Meat Profit Partnership (RMPP) has ended.
Charlie and wife Trudy farm sheep and beef on 1350 ha at Ti-Tree Point, east of Dannevirke, and are members of an action group focused on business and strategic planning.
“A lot of us are at the same stage in our farming careers, so there are a lot of similarities,” he says.
“Trudy and I have completed our succession planning during our time with the group. That came up a lot in the expert presentations and some of the other members shared their experiences of succession, so that all definitely helped.”
The group was launched in June 2018 and is facilitated by Simon Marshall, a production vet with Vet Services Dannevirke.
“As a business, the practice saw it as an opportunity for farmer clients and held meetings to see what interest there was around different topics,” Marshall explains.
There are seven farm businesses, all farming couples, in the Business and Strategic Planning Action Group. All are sheep and beef farmers from central Hawke’s Bay and Tararua who all wanted to get an overarching view of their farm businesses and how they were doing. They also wanted to have goals for what their businesses are trying to achieve.
A major focus was to ensure every one of the member businesses had developed a strategic business plan and this has now been achieved.
“For the first meeting we did a swot analysis for each farm business and got them to write down their goals,” Marshall adds. “We did short term, medium term and long-term goals – and that really got us to the point that we knew this was the right topic for everyone.”
For the second meeting, the group brought in Matt Hood, senior rural manager for Rabobank in Masterton.
“Matt focused a lot on understanding the resource you have in your land and your people, because once you know exactly what you have got, you can better work to get the most out of it,” Marshall says. “He talked about finding your ‘true north’ – your internal compass, based on your deeply held beliefs, values and principles – and how, even if you go off path, you can look to that to always guide you.”
For the third meeting, the group undertook a field trip to Havelock North, led by rural facilitator David Todd, including meeting with Mission Estate Winery chief executive Peter Holley. It also included a visit to the BEL Group dairy farming operation where their GM Cameron Gillatt talked about use of strategic business plans in their group and how they use them to guide their on-farm programmes.
“That really opened our group members’ eyes to the fact that where businesses are using plans, they can be adapted to suit most scenarios,” Marshall adds. “It gave a working knowledge of strategic plans and gave them confidence they could use a plan on their farms. Seeing evidence of a plan in action gives more confidence about using one yourself.”
Riddell says that hearing about strategic planning from people both in and outside of agriculture was beneficial.
“It was very good to hear different ideas from people outside of the industry, but which you could still apply to your farm business,” he says.
The next session was the RMPP-developed Taking Ownership of Your Financials workshop, which was led by local ANZ banker Dan Billing.
“A lot of the members have goals of increasing profit, so they found that very helpful in terms of understanding what their numbers are,” Marshall says. “It helped them to understand why they are achieving, or not achieving, that goal.”
Masterton agribusiness consultant Sam Jury also provided a session focused on ensuring all the members had completed strategic business plans.
“Sam brought along a template but also helped them to understand there is no right or wrong way – you can use the template and adapt it to incorporate your ideas. Up to that point, I think they all wanted to be told how to write the plan, but that session gave them the confidence to complete it themselves, their way,” Marshall adds.
He says now that the group members all have their strategic plans in place they can look at the specific areas members want to focus on to help them with their plans.
“For instance, they want to look at environmental issues. So, we did a field trip to a farm in the Stoney Creek catchment and met with Alistair Cole of NZ Landcare Trust and Alice Bradley, Environment Projects Manager at Beef + Lamb New Zealand,” Marshall says. “That really got the members thinking about front footing work around environmental regulations and got movement going there.”
Simon Marshall says while Covid-19 has impacted on the group, connectivity and discussion between group members has continued.
“That is a huge part of the action group benefits,” he says. “The subject matter experts are very important but the peer-to-peer learning is massive too.”
Marshall concedes that while it is hard to quantify yet what on-farm changes might have come out of the group. However, he believes this will follow in time, for instance, through their environmental focus.
“They are influencing one another, that is for sure, and they have started to question their policy and how that lines up with their strategic plan, and really look at what they want to achieve. Everyone drew up their goals, for some it is more profit, for others it’s to be able to spend more time with family or improve their staff management.”
Meanwhile, Riddell says one of the major lessons that he and Trudy have taken from the group is to look at diversifying the skills they learned in their farming business.
“For me, a major takeout has been not to hold yourselves back, don’t limit yourselves. There is a lot of potential to diversify into other areas outside of agriculture.”