The Northland farming project, Extension 350, wants farmers who are ready to upskill and grow their business to join new farming clusters.

Four new clusters are getting under way in the region — two sheep and beef clusters for farmers in southern and mid Northland from Helensville to north of Kaikohe, and two dairy clusters in the mid-Kaipara and the Far North.

Launched last year, Extension 350 is the first programme of its kind in New Zealand. Farmer-led and farmer-focused, it helps farmers across Northland share knowledge and gain access to specialist advice.

"You have nothing to lose. One of our main fears was having others analyse and critique everything. It's not like that at all. Your consultant and mentor farmer are there to help and support you, bringing all their knowledge and expertise to the table."

Project manager Luke Beehre said there was huge potential for economic growth in Northland farming.

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"Farming isn't just about production — it's about profitability, environmental sustainability and the wellbeing of not just farmers, but our farming community. That's why Extension 350 exists."

Planned clusters

Ten geographically based clusters of farmers are planned for the project — three sheep and beef, and seven dairy.

Each cluster will have five target farmers who work one-on-one with a mentor farmer and consultant. After about six months, five associate farmers will be invited to learn alongside the target farmers and share the journey.

Three clusters were established in 2017. Four more — two dairy and two sheep and beef — are now open for farmers to join and three more dairy clusters will be set up next year.
"Extension 350 is focused on the farm and for the farmer," Luke Beehre said.

"For target farmers it's about establishing your goals for your farming business and having support to make them happen. Associate farmers join the journey and can see what works and take those learnings to their own farms.

"We are recruiting for target, mentor or associate farmers in southern and mid-Northland sheep and beef clusters.

"The dairy cluster in mid-Kaipara has had great support, but we still have limited spaces available for associate farmers there, as well as in the Whangarei south Bream Bay and Whangarei north dairy clusters," he said.

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'Faster decisions'

Broadwood brothers Angus and Peter McCraith own one of the farms involved in the first sheep and beef cluster. As target farmers, Extension 350 gave them a chance to best use their farm asset and combined skills, along with those of their farm manager Doug Booth.

Peter and Angus said they had been considering a number of projects for some time before hearing about Extension 350.

"Having the Extension 350 panel involved meant plenty of robust discussion and much faster, easier decisions," Peter said. His advice to other farmers was "get involved".

"You have nothing to lose. One of our main fears was having others analyse and critique everything. It's not like that at all. Your consultant and mentor farmer are there to help and support you, bringing all their knowledge and expertise to the table."

Extension 350 has widespread support from industry. It is a Tai Tokerau Northland Economic Action Plan project and is supported by Northland Inc, DairyNZ, Beef + Lamb New Zealand, Northland Regional Council, and the Ministry for Primary Industries.

Anyone interested in joining or wanting more information can call Extension 350 project manager Luke Beehre on 027 544 7839 or email him on luke.beehre@northlandnz.com