Rural professional John King believes traditions and customs rob farmers of profitability.

"You need to question yourself, and that questioning is a big part of what the Red Meat Profit Partnership [RMPP] Action Network is all about," he says.

King, a specialist in regenerative and holistic farming with a background in adult education, is facilitating five RMPP Action Groups across the country, in Northland, Canterbury, Hawke's Bay, Otago and Southland.

Agroecologist Nicole Masters is the centre of attraction as she analyses pasture on Nadine Moore's family farm at Paparoa. Photos / Supplied
Agroecologist Nicole Masters is the centre of attraction as she analyses pasture on Nadine Moore's family farm at Paparoa. Photos / Supplied

"I am seeing the groups evolve, as people get to know one another," he says. "There is real diversity of age and size of farm businesses and a lot of farms are widespread so members of the group won't necessarily know one another.

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"Part of my job is to get them talking and to look for commonalities and themes to help them prioritise what they want to do. It isn't my role to decide the agenda, but to help find the experts they want to bring in and to help give them the confidence to do things differently."

Nadine Moore is a member of the Northland group, which consists of nine farm businesses. She has a focus on regenerative farming and says King's work is hugely helpful in enabling the group to bond and work toward shared goals.

Moore, her parents Neil and Bronwyn and husband Beau, farm Friesian bulls on 400ha of family and leased land at Paparoa.

"John was suggested to our group as a facilitator because his knowledge is well suited to our goals, but he is also knowledgeable about his role," Moore says. "He is helping our group to mesh. He guides our conversation and finds the best expert speakers, aligning them with our goals.

"Regenerative agriculture isn't easy. It isn't mainstream in New Zealand yet, it's not a conventional way of farming – so it's important to have shared experience with like-minded people."

Expert resources

Meetings are held at members' farms and, at the first event, the group discussed what they wanted their priorities to be.

"John provided an action plan template and together we nutted out what we wanted to achieve, which is to look at pasture diversity, grazing management, soil health and financial management and markets," Moore says.

"With funding approved, we now have access to fantastic expert resources that would cost a lot if we had to access them by ourselves."

For King's master's degree in agricultural science, he focused on self-directed learning for farming couples. His areas of expertise range from farm problem solving, family communication and decision-making, habits and time management to ecological relationships between soil, plants and livestock, and grazing planning.

"Agroecologist Nicole Masters came to a meeting on our Paparoa farm last year," Moore says. ''John held a video conference with us all to discuss what we are looking for from that session, so he can discuss that with Nicole in advance."

Like-minded members

As well as meeting like-minded people, Moore says membership of the group helps keep you accountable.

"We are already learning a lot from the group but it also encourages you to do what you say you are going to do. Regenerative agriculture is about changing systems, so it is really good to have the support of the group. At present, we are all still getting to know one another, but I think, as that grows, we will start to talk about what we are doing outside of meetings.

"It's already giving us the confidence to start making small changes on our farm – especially as we know there is follow-up support if we have any questions. We have gone to John with questions about mob size and how long to leave a rotation.

King brings groups together for four full-day meetings a year – with discussion for the morning and an expert or an activity, such as a farm visit, in the afternoon. However, he keeps in regular touch, including through video conferences, in between and provides topics to work on ahead of meetings.

''Ultimately, the Action Groups are about people supporting one another as they explore what they want for their farms. You need simple ways to get them talking and make sure everyone is getting what they want out of the group. That means ensuring that no-one dominates a group and that quieter people have their say too," he says.

"A lot of it is about helping them to challenge their own perspectives. My role is not to decide the agenda. It is to step them through the process, find the experts and speakers they want and to give them the confidence to try different things on their farms."

Red Meat Profit Partnership

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

* is funded by 10 government and private sector partners: Ministry for Primary Industries, ANZ, Alliance, ANZCO, Beef + Lamb NZ, Blue Sky Meats, Greenlea Premier Meats, Progressive Meats, Rabobank and Silver Fern Farms.

* works alongside farmers and sector businesses to develop, test and introduce new ways of engaging with information and technology.

For more information, visit actionnetwork.co.nz