The Country - Farmer-led programme in Northland lifts sustainability

Two of 10 farm clusters involved with Extension 350 — a farmer-led programme designed to lift profitability, environmental sustainability and wellbeing on Northland farms — are now under way in the Far North.

Last year a sheep and beef cluster in Kaitaia helped lead the rollout in Northland, and a dairy cluster is now being established.

Project manager Luke Beehre said the Far North was a great location for one of the first clusters.

"We had keen interest in Extension 350 from the Far North farming community, and the NDDT and DairyNZ Far North Partner Farm (Tony, Briar, Don and Linda Lunjevich's dairy unity) had brought a real localised focus and attention to the successful outcomes of a farmer-focused and farmer-driven extension model," he said.

Extension 350, part of the Tai Tokerau Northland Economic Action Plan, is designed to expand capability and opportunities in agriculture in Northland, supported by Northland Inc, DairyNZ, Beef + Lamb New Zealand, the Northland Regional Council and the Ministry for Primary Industries.

Now in its second year, Extension 350 has seven clusters under way, with three more to be rolled out this and next year. Each cluster has five target farmers, who work one-on-one with a mentor farmer and a consultant.

After about six months, five associate farmers are invited to learn alongside target farmers. The recruitment of target and associate farmers for the Far North's dairy cluster is now under way.

Broadwood brothers Angus and Peter McCraith were target farmers in the first sheep and beef cluster. Extension 350 offers them the chance to best use their farm asset and their combined skills, along with those of farm manager Doug Booth. Since becoming involved with Extension 350 the McCraiths have done a whole-farm assessment, covering the operation's financial situation, physical, equity/assets, staff and goals.

They work with their mentor, farmer Laurie Copeland, farm consultant Gareth Baynham, and receive additional mentoring support from Peter Hick.

The McCraiths are urging other farmers to get involved, saying the consultants don't analyse and criticise but instead deliver all their knowledge and expertise to the table.
"It's a great concept that benefits Northland," Peter McCraith said.

Mr Beehre agreed, saying the benefits included close and intentional support and advice around the three key areas under the project.

"Farm systems are complex and interrelated," he said.

"Enduring change is most likely to occur when farmers are focused on achieving their own goals and objectives. In this context, effective extension is about relationships between supporting professionals, and critically, with other farmers who have walked this road."