Having organised and led numerous farm study tours of New Zealand, I now look back and reflect on the real benefits our farmers have gained from travelling to another country.
By world standards, New Zealand punches well above its weight in terms of new technology and innovation. With our Kiwi neighbours being so close and the cost of travel so favourable, it has always amazed me that more Australian farmers have not made NZ a must-do destination.
With its small population and an economy dependent on agriculture, it is important for NZ's future that its rural industries continue to grow and prosper.
The old saying that "necessary is the mother of invention" really applies in NZ. Farming land is incredibly expensive and the need to produce more from the same land area becomes a first-choice management option.
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From a grazing perspective, growing and utilising pasture has always been a strong point of Kiwi farming and they never lose sight of that. Stocking rate is an integral part of pasture management and individual animal performance comes a close second.
Developing new ideas is one thing, but gaining adoption across the industry is another. One method used by the NZ grazing industry was to have many monitor farms spread across the country.
On one study tour we visited John and Cara Greagan's monitor farm south of Timaru. Their farm was a good-sized commercial sheep farm in the main with some cattle and little cropping. The aim was for Mr Greagan to run his farm to best practice utilising the latest proven technology.
He was assisted by a board of management and a consultant who became the facilitator of the project. Quarterly field days were held, and many farmers would attend. At the first field day, the past performance, future goals and management practices were outlined, while visitors were given a complete tour of the farm.
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At each of the quarterly field days, the budget to actual performance for the past three months was outlined and discussed. The management issues that had the greatest impact on performance were analysed with a fine-tooth comb.
At the end of each year, the annual performance and benchmarks were developed and provided to the farmer members. This became useful material on which to build the following year's plan.
The opportunity for farmers to see new ideas implemented successfully in a commercial setting was a real confidence booster. Having first-hand access to the physical and financial records of the farm was also a winner. Understanding how certain decisions were made, along with learning problem-solving techniques, was immensely valuable.
The whole farm approach and the willingness of the monitor farmers to bare their physical and financial soul left my visiting group with no doubt that this method was one of the best to improve on-farm adoption.
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