Introducing Farmax and utilising an expert to help guide them through the programme has given the O'Rourke familythe confidence to change their system to better fit their conditions. Paddy and Lesley O'Rourke, along with son Andrew farm a 532ha property in Rissington, 30kms NW of Napier. They run 6000 Stock Units with bulls, cows, sheep and deer.
The O'Rourke's first became involved in the RMPP pilot through their meat processor, Progressive Meats. They wereopen to making changes and knew their farm could be improved but were unsure how to go about it. Key objectives were around wanting to improve the performance of their farm particularly in drought conditions. Paddy and Lesley also wanted to improve the performance and sustainability of their farm as part of succession planning for their son Andrew. The rolling contour of the property allows for only limited cropping and it is a long narrow farm with two gorges to negotiate.
The main challenge was that the current business model at the time was not able to cope with changes in climate. Over a five-year period the good years did not outweigh the losses in the bad ones. Rebecca McNutt from Progressive Meats connected the O'Rourkes with specialist John Cannon, at a B+LNZ workshop. John had been a local top farmer and his local knowledge was critical for gaining Paddy's confidence. Farmax was used to model a number of different scenarios to give the farm team the opportunity to see the changes in action and choose the scenarios they wanted to implement on-farm.
The main changes to the system was that there have been tweaks in stocking ratios, particularly around rearing less calves and more crops are being planted in both winter and summer with the aim to triple the overall amount of cropping. Using Farmax was critical as it gave Paddy the evidence he needed to make a bold decision. "I'm pretty excited about the next 12 months, knowing where we are at the moment and knowing how we are going ahead. It's all very well wanting to go ahead but you have got to know how to do it." John was impressed with how well the farm was performing in good years "Paddy put a lot of understanding into what was going on in his business because he is a keen farmer and he enjoys it and he understands it.
My job is to push him and poke him and prod him along until he eventually gets to the right decision for him." Rebecca believes the best pilot approach is a whole of farm assessment with a subject matter specialist who can provide some direction to farmers without telling them what to do This entails showing the farmer a number of scenarios for improving farm performance then allowing the farmer to choose which option suits their style of farming best. The modelling was key to showing Paddy the effect of climate on farm performance. It also gave Paddy confidence in his farming practices in good years. The scenarios enabled the farm team and John to discuss different financially viable options.
They had the chance to choose from a range of credible options. The farm team were given direction without being told what to – at the end of the day the choice was theirs. Paddy and Lesley see independent experts/specialists as extremely valuable for help and advice. They also see the benefit of using Farmax as a tool to model performance outcomes. By utilizing both an independent expert and also using a decision-making tool, this gave the team the confidence to put their ideas into action.
The RMPP pilot has been the catalyst to turning this farm into one that is more sustainable into the future and John has helped this farm team move to a system that over the long term yields better returns, by making it more resilient in dry periods.