Saturday, December 2, 2023

Action groups motivate farmers

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Working together to gain access to high-level agriculture and business expertise is already leading to efficiency gains for a group of Hawke’s Bay farmers, rural consultant Sean Bennett says.
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Bennett facilitates two Red Meat Profit Partnership action groups and is working with farmers to set up several more. 

The RMPP action network supports small groups of seven to nine farm businesses working together to explore ideas and share expert resources to help make positive on-farm changes. Kick-start funding of $4000 a farm is pooled to fund facilitation and expertise.

“My role is to put the group in front of the right expertise and advice and facilitate the discussion to allow them to make informed decisions,” Bennett, who farmed sheep and beef on the east coast for 17 years before studying business and accounting and becoming a rural consultant. said. 

“Then I work with the group to achieve the outcomes and goals set at our initial planning session. 

“The RMPP funding is very good, targeted funding for farmers to use to really deep dive into the topics they want to know about.

“For instance, one of my groups is focused on bringing efficiencies into their businesses. 

“They are really flying. 

“For example, as a result of expertise being shared via the group they now have the potential to save thousands in fertiliser costs. 

“They are analysing their farm businesses a lot more, particularly around discretionary expenditure and cost structure. 

“They have a far better understanding around using farm business software and they are looking at what is really driving the profit in their business rather than what they think is driving it. When they spend a dollar now they want to know what they are getting for their dollar.”

That group has eight members, ranging in age from their 30s to 50s, who live between 40 to 60 minutes by road from one another. 

“Initially, they were very production-focused but that evolved. 

“We aim to get together every couple of months and for the very first one I took them to a large-scale multi enterprise business which was different from the group’s normal business as usual. 

“After spending time gaining a picture of the business we used a SWAT analysis to identify the strengths, weaknesses and threats to the business. They came up with something very similar to what the business owner had produced. What was really impressive is the group accurately analysed a multi enterprise business after only two hours on-farm.  

“The challenge to the group was to take the learning and apply it to their own businesses. 

“They decided to shift their focus to what would bring efficiencies into their business. 

“Things have moved very fast and they have done that themselves. They are very driven and they are really throwing ideas around.” 

Experts Bennett has found to work with the group include Paul Holden from Seed Force with a question-and-answer format to talk about cropping. Another session with Holden is planned. 

Farm nutrient adviser Melinda Turner from Nutri-Link Farm Nutrient Management also ran a session. 

Before meeting Turner the farmers provided her with recent soil tests for their properties. She analysed them individually and made recommendations. 

“I also provided a sample, from an unrelated farm, which highlighted a classic example of throwing money down the drain through incorrect use of fertiliser.

“Until then, for those in the group who had undertaken soil sampling, it had only been with their fertiliser company reps. 

“Melinda taught the group how to understand the relationship between nutrients and when to dive deeper into the results and what questions to ask. Group members now see value in investing in soil and herbage analysis more deeply because they recognise the advantages and they are seeing the benefits from that on-farm.”

The group also wanted to find out more about working with Xero, particularly the Figured farm management app. While all but one of the group had Xero, not all had used the farming app.

“We got Sudeshan (Suds) Mudali, Figured’s customer success specialist, in to demonstrate the product, outline Figured`s long-term strategy and answer the group’s questions.

“They got a lot of value out of the session with group members now up and running using Figured. 

“We are planning a benchmarking project around developing key KPIs for individual group members and their business. 

“Suds is going to come back and look at what people need going forward for benchmarking operations.”

Bennett is also encouraging the group to do the Taking Ownership of Your Financials workshop that aims to help farmers better understand their financial statements, how they are structured and where to find key information. 

“They are also keen to do some work around personal development so we are aiming to bring in leadership coach Corene Walker. 

“I know the groups I work with would urge any farmers to take up the opportunity to be part of an action group because it’s awesome to see the outcomes of being able to bring in some really grunty advice – made possible by the pooled funding.

“You can go much deeper than you would in a discussion group because in a small group people can say ‘can we hear a bit more on that’. It enables people to go at their own pace. 

“These farmers have changed their thinking. 

“They are so much more confident to try new things in their businesses because they know that if they need advice and support there is someone to go to and others to bounce ideas off. 

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