Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Looking across the ditch for fresh ideas

This year’s drought has highlighted the need for farmers to get all the help they can when it comes to management practices. So are they missing out on important facts and ideas right on our doorstep by regarding Australia as a holiday destination rather than a pool of information? Why are farmer field trips to Australia considered a junket while trips to Taihape and the South Island are considered worthy? Negative perceptions are preventing more farmers from taking advantage of the proximity of Australia to pick up on management practices which have potential for New Zealand conditions, consultant Peter Andrew says.

Andrew and eight farmers from Beef + Lamb New Zealand’s Beef Profit Partnership group in Gisborne/Wairoa self-funded a six-day beef focused field trip to Queensland and New South Wales in 2009 and are planning another – to Victoria, this time – for late May.

The original trip cost each farmer about $3000 and looked at the initial work of the Beef Co-operative Research Centre (CRC) programme in Australia.

The group flew into Brisbane and out of Sydney, renting two cars and visiting a mix of farms, research centres, processing facilities and feed lots. They tapped into CRC contacts to identify suitable properties and facilities for their itinerary.

Andrew says field trips to Australia are often perceived as a bit of a holiday.

“When you take a farmer group to Taihape, the South Island or a university in NZ, it’s considered good tech transfer and a great thing to be doing. But go across the Tasman and the perception is that it’s a bit of a junket.

“Some people say beef management in Australia is not applicable to New Zealand but I disagree. There are many lessons to be learned by looking at how the Australians operate and how they build their farm around a particular environment.

“It’s often cheaper to travel to Australia than around New Zealand, especially from a smaller centre like Gisborne. And the team bonding aspect is significant.

“There’s nothing like putting a bunch of farmers together for a week – on the plane, sharing cars and accommodation, eating together – to build some really good rapport and trust. It fast-tracked the group dynamics and made a huge difference to the effectiveness and success of the group.”

Andrew says it was total immersion with the trip 100% business-focused. Conversations in the car and around the dinner table centred on what the group had just seen.

Gisborne sheep and beef farmer Grant Hickling says the trip appealed because it was into a region of Australia which had relevance to New Zealand conditions.

“The New England area inland from Brisbane is high enough above sea level that it does have definite winters. The upcoming trip is to Victoria is similar, in that there will be enough in common for it to work well.

“I went in 2009 because I wanted to open up my eyes to how other people were doing things. In New Zealand we have sheep to look after as well and we can sometimes be a little bit focused on them ahead of cattle.

“The trip highlighted to me what was possible if you are focused on cattle only. For instance, their cattle were much quieter because they are mostly yard weaned and handled a lot more than our cattle. We also had the opportunity to see some magnificent cattle yards and set-ups.”

Hickling says the two cars, with four and five people, proved perfect in terms of the logistics and cost-effectiveness of the trip. “I’d say eight or 12 is ideal, as you can fill the cars but it’s not too many people that the farmers we visited felt overwhelmed.

“At $3000 I found it immensely worthwhile. And let’s be honest, farmers can be a bit guilty of not spending money on their own personal development. Even if you only reinforce something you already know, it’s worth it for that.”

– Supplied by Beef + Lamb New Zealand

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