Advance Parties evolving with time

Advance Parties evolving with time

Friday, July 27, 2018

Four years ago, Deer Industry New Zealand (DINZ) began an initiative designed to rebuild farmer confidence in deer farming and to boost the profitability of their farms.

Deer farmers were encouraged to form groups where – with the aid of a facilitator – they could help each other to achieve their personal and farm business goals.

“There are now 26 of these groups – called Advance Parties (APs) – from north of Auckland to Southland, with another three on the drawing board. They are farmer-led and operate on the principle that farmers learn best from other farmers in a supported environment,” says DINZ Passion2Profit manager Innes Moffat.

Farmers at a P2P Regional Workshop at the Kowhais, South Canterbury, in April. Photo: Phil Stewart

About 15 percent of the country’s deer farms, responsible for perhaps 25 percent of the country’s deer, are directly involved. Lessons learned in AP projects are communicated to the wider deer farming community through annual workshops convened by Advance Parties in their regions.

“Most AP members have made management changes to improve the profitability of their deer operations. There has also been a renewed enthusiasm for deer – buoyed by good prices for venison and velvet – with many farmers expanding the deer-fenced areas of their farms,” Moffat says.

He says APs that were set-up three or four years ago have addressed the easy management fixes on their farms and some are changing direction.

“There’s a greater focus on environmental sustainability in most APs. Two APs are specifically focussed on the environment and there will doubtless be more of these as more regions roll out their water quality plans,” Moffat says.

“Some continue to be based around farm meetings and the stimulation that comes from sharing experiences with other farmers. In others the members are now more interested in bigger and more complex issues, like overall farm management systems and farm business planning.” 

He says the role of DINZ is to provide AP chairs and facilitators with the support they need to expand the expertise and knowledge of their members. This may involve resources and expertise in farm business management or planning. Or support with off-farm guidance and resources, such as environmental planning workshops, practical sessions on the use of weighing systems, visits to APs in other regions or sessions with product marketers.

“In a small industry – where individual deer farms may be geographically isolated from each other – it is critical to encourage networking, camaraderie and a sense of common purpose. We’ve also discovered when things are difficult, such as during difficult events like droughts and major earthquakes, APs provide members with a lot of mutual support.”

Moffat says as well as encouraging farmers to set up more APs, DINZ will now be looking at developing more innovative activities where farmers can learn from other farmers.

“In the last couple of years we have convened Regional Workshops at which small groups of farmers take part in facilitated discussions on topics that interest them. We’re going to try and replicate that across the industry on other important topics.”

Throughout the AP programme, the Ministry for Primary Industries has partnered with DINZ to help   ensure their success. For the first three years, when the AP concept was being trialled, MPI provided 50 percent funding support through the Sustainable Farming Fund.

In the last year, as well the current year, MPI has provided the same level of support through the deer industry’s Primary Growth Partnership programme, Passion2Profit.

Deer farmers interested in setting up and Advance Party should contact Innes Moffat, Tel 021 465 121 or innes.moffat@deernz.org