Agroup of high-performing Hawke's Bay farmers have developed carbon-zero planting programmes for their farms in a unique display of initiative in a Red Meat Profit Partnership (RMPP) network Action Group established just a year ago.

The group kicked off in August 2018, with the support of group facilitator, farm consultant, former farm manager and now Waipukurau lifestyle block holder Sean Bennett.

With input from a wide range of experts, the group had the individual plans ready to go year one, planting during the winter of 2019.

One of more than 100 groups in various stages of establishment throughout the country, and one of several coming under Bennett's wing, they established a target of making their farms carbon neutral, and taking the brand to market.

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Bennett says a good model has been created in the RMPP network framework, supporting 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.

Kick-start funding of $4000 per business is pooled to fund facilitation and expertise on a group basis, and the group wanted access to quality information to determine what 'carbon zero' would look like for their farms.

"So they put in a lot of intensive work in a fairly short period of time," he says.
"They front-ended it with planning sessions, to gain clarity on the outcomes required and we brought in a lot of expert input."

Expertise gathered for the group's planning days have included carbon and land-use specialist Margaret Willis of Woodnet, James Powrie from RedAxe Forestry Intelligence, Hawke's Bay native tree specialist Marie Taylor, Landcare Trust regional co-ordinator Nathan Burkepile; Hawke's Bay Biodiversity Strategy project manager Genevieve Bennett, and Hawke's Bay Regional Council land management team specialists Warwick Hesketh and Madeline Hall.

"It was important to leverage off the knowledge in the room, to gain different perspectives and ensure we have the right tree in the right place for the right purpose," Bennett says.

As two examples, Powrie highlighted the importance of balance around planting and not just focusing on carbon, and Willis provided a session on the Emissions Trading Scheme, mapping each group member's property to see what opportunities there would be to create carbon credits.

Taylor, who has a native plants nursery, helped with deciding which trees and plants to select to meet the needs of each farm.

Bennett said the expertise was "really valuable in planning the logistics".
"Plans changed a lot," he said. "There is now a lot more awareness around the best local native planting for their needs."

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The regional council land management team built a close relationship with the group and is now "permanently connected" members which, Bennett said, appreciate the value of the model and want to become advocates.

"There is another carbon focus group in Hawke's Bay and we are also looking at how we can get some of the action groups together to share the learnings — like a hub," he said.

RMPP is a seven-year Primary Growth Partnership programme that is working to help the red meat sector increase productivity and profitability.