Andy and Nic Gardiner have significantly lifted their Tararua farm business’s gross revenue over the past three years. They have improved ewes’ body condition and lamb birthweights, are docking more lambs, and boosting lamb survival to sale.
Andy and Nic attribute much of these gains to their involvement in a Red Meat Profit Partnership (RMPP) Action Group with its strong focus on business planning.
The RMPP Action Network model supports small groups of seven to nine farm businesses to work together to explore ideas and share expert resources to help them to make positive changes on-farm.
The couple, who farm 670ha near Pahiatua, and a 92ha finishing block at Dannevirke, run 2,700 ewes and hoggets and 120 Angus cows, that calve to a terminal Simmental bull. They also have Friesian bulls and trade lambs.
Their land is a predominately winter-wet, summer-safe farming area. However, with summers becoming drier and the majority of their land hill country, they were struggling to finish lambs on the hills with growth rates of 40-50 g/day and unpredictable seasons.
Andy says they saw joining the Action Group as an opportunity to improve their business planning, to learn more about their business, its long term resilience, how it compared to other businesses and how they could increase its performance.
“We also saw it as a way to get together with like-minded people. We like the fact that a lot of couples go along together and that it is business-based – a lot of discussion groups are just about sheep and grass and you tend to get into a rut. This is sheep and grass but much more too, from management decisions to leadership.”
The Gardiners says the facilitation aspect of the Action Group model is critical to its success.
“Without the facilitator doing a decent job, it isn’t going to work,” says Andy. “When we started, we spent the first two to three meetings doing business work, like mission statements and financials. That was a great start because it gave us time to get to know one another and then you are more confident to share information further down the line.”
The group has worked with subject matter experts on a range of issues, from sheep breeding systems to winter and summer crops, environmental issues and fertilisers and cropping.
Andy says that has brought significant learnings but that peer-to-peer learning and support within the group has been equally valuable.
“They aren’t all local farmers, there’s a real mix, all the way up to Hastings with a variety of different types of farming and climate but there’s still a lot of things you can pick up from other people and bring back to your farm. We really enjoy that diversity.”
Opportunities Andy and Nic identified through specialist speakers and peer-to-peer learning, have included moving from a 12-month to a six month shearing policy.
Using the group as a ‘sounding board’ also helped give them confidence to further invest in their business where production and performance gains could be made. This has included building new covered yards to enable the pre-lamb shearing of ewes.
Shearing changes have had a strong flow-on effect to ewe and lamb performances. The first year of twice-yearly shearing was carried out in 2018-19. Although pregnancy scanning was back compared to the previous year’s results, there were 16 per cent more lambs at docking than in previous years.
“The big win for us has been moving to winter shearing,” says Andy. “Previously everyone in this area sheared once a year because it is so wet in winter. We had thought about changing but talking in the group about whether it was a good idea or not gave us the push to do it.”
Membership of the group also helped give the Gardiners confidence to purchase the semi-finishing ex dairy run-off at Dannevirke to support their farm operation, which offers more spring growth and a better ability to use crops for finishing.
Andy says he and Nic now feel they know where their business is heading. They have a formal business plan and goals and are working to simplify their systems and sustainably lift productivity and profitability further.
They are also planning to overhaul their health and safety programme, following a group workshop.
“I believe the group will continue beyond the end of March 2021, when the RMPP programme ends,” says Andy. “We all get on well and are getting a lot out of it so I hope we can keep going.”