Cottrell says being involved in a small group has been really beneficial for his business, providing a good opportunity not only to be part of, but to get together as a group of farmers to share expertise from various people and engage experts of our choosing.
The RMPP Action Network model supports small groups of seven to nine farm businesses working together to explore ideas and sharing expert resources to help them make positive changes on-farm.
The Taihape group of sheep and beef farmers started in July 2018 and meets every two months.
Member Tom Wells says that the group is strongly farmer-driven and has evolved over time.
“The initial focus of the group was on profitability but we have branched off into all sorts of areas,” he said.
Setting goals and establishing business plans is a key aspect of being involved in an Action Group and the Taihape members say working through these together has been valuable – as has the sharing of farmer experiences and knowledge.
Cottrell says setting goals, going about them and seeing results gives farmers a huge confidence boost, while fellow member Derek White says doing that in a group setting promotes accountability.
“The farm Action Plan is about having some goals and objectives and putting what is in your head down on paper,” he said.
“Expressing that to other people may make you more accountable.
“The members are proactive in what they are doing and it has made it easier to learn. It’s a good vibe to be in.”
Farmer John Gordon says the diversity of age and experience among members is a big advantage.
“It ranges from those starting out to people looking at different ways of doing things and some starting to look at succession,” he said.
“Everyone has something to offer and the diversity means that young people can ask others what they did when they hit a particular problem. That’s a golden thing.
“Being involved in the Action Group has helped us to focus on aspects of our business where we maybe weren’t as strong. Sharing that with the group and going through it together has really been brilliant.
“Being a small group helps it flow along. If there is anything we need to ask, we can ask it in the group. It gives us a snapshot in time as to where we are now, where we want to be and, through the Action Group, the stepping stones – and that will make it easier in the future to advance those goals.”
Rabobank facilitator Byron Taylor says the way Action Groups are structured is critical to their success.
“Having very small groups and good ground rules and structure about how groups communicate gives farmer members confidence to share knowledge, because, as well as the experts, there is a huge amount of knowledge among group members,” he said.
“These are a great bunch of farmers. They are knowledge-hungry; some are coming into the business, some have kids coming into business and they are all enjoying their involvement.
“At every activity we’ve had, someone has learned something new and taken it back to their farm business.
“Being in a small group gives everyone the chance to speak and ask questions, no one is down the back hidden. There is a social aspect too, the small group size means they get to know one another.
“The group has been together for two years now and everyone is still coming along to the meetings. That shows how engaged they are and how strong the trust is – we embedded that early in the piece.”
Equally, Cottrell says good facilitation is key to the success of the group.
“Having a good facilitator has been key for our group. Byron (Taylor) is exceptional. He is a good guy and a great communicator. It can be hard to direct a group of busy farmers, but he does a great job,” he said.
“Another reason for the group’s success is we’ve got a bunch of people who have become friends. There is a lot of respect and experience within the group.
“We are all keen to continue the group in its current form with the current facilitator. There is a very good dynamic – we are starting to build a history.”
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