E350 field day hailed a success

11 Apr 2018, 10:45 AM

More than two dozen agricultural industry, rural professionals and local authority staff gathered near Whangarei recently to learn more about a farmer-led programme designed to lift profitability, environmental sustainability and wellbeing on Northland farms.

‘Extension 350’ was launched in 2016 to help farmers in Northland to share knowledge between farmers and gain access to specialist advice.  E350 is part of the Tai Tokerau Northland Economic Action plan and is supported by Northland Inc, Ministry for Primary Industries, Northland Regional Council (NRC), DairyNZ and Beef + Lamb NZ.

Regional council chairman Bill Shepherd – a dairy farmer himself – says the five-year project aims to have 10 ‘clusters’ of farmers (three sheep/beef and seven dairy) up and running by 2018/19, with seven clusters already involved in the project.

“E350’s point of difference is that it’s very much farmer focussed; on the farm and for the farmer.  Each cluster has five target farmers who work one-on-one with a mentor farmer and consultant.  After six months, five associate farmers are invited to learn alongside the target farmer.”

Chairman Shepherd says the recent E350 field day had been a real success, and had been split between the regional council’s Mata-based poplar and willow nursery and a Ruakaka dairy farm owned by Bruce and Julie Paton.

“Participants included farm consultants, the regional council, DairyNZ, Fonterra, Beef + Lamb NZ, Living Waters and the E350 project team.”

“The first couple of hours were spent talking about some of the issues and opportunities looming for the industry in terms of environmental sustainability and viewing the nursery, before heading to the Paton’s farm.  The focus there was further developing practical application of environmental challenges and understanding the farmer’s journey.”

Discussions at Mata had included an update on the E350 programme itself, including what had been learned and achieved to date and resources and tools available to help farmers reduce their environmental footprint.

Speakers had outlined developments and upcoming changes at a regional level including general land management and climate change issues, as well as regional and national plans and what impacts these would, or could, have in Northland.

Council staff had also walked participants through the 10-hectare nursery, helping them understand the potential poplars offer for erosion control.

The subsequent on-farm component at the Paton property had traversed a broad range of areas including land use options, forestry, best practice cultivation guidelines, drain and race management, riparian management and weed control, effluent ponds and farm dairy effluent management.

Dairy NZ Regional Sustainability Leader Helen Moodie says because the programme looks to lift environmental sustainability of each farm, as well as their profitability and wellbeing, there’s a valuable opportunity to build relationships and understanding with farmers, consultants, industry organisations and council.

Chairman Shepherd says general information about the E350 project is available from www.northlandnz.com/extension350

He says the project is currently looking for dairy farmers to join clusters in the Far North and the Maungaturoto/Ruawai areas, and for sheep and beef farmers in the mid-North and southern parts of the region.

 “People looking for more information or who are keen join a cluster can contact Extension 350 Project Manager Luke Beehre via:  [email protected] .”