Feminine farmer group continues

By Joanna Grigg

In Business8 Minutes
The action group, from left: Caroline and Ring NZ), Ally Avery, Ellie Cranswick, Kelly Allan, Louise Stevenson, Viniana Culleton, Melanie Stevenson, Bridget Crabbe.Houghton, Trudi Roberts, Nicky Stevenson, Rhianon Murray, Sandra Jermyn, Siobhan Allen (Director, Merrill

A women-only action group in Marlborough is one of 100 being renewed.

The Northern South Island group  was formally funded by the Red Meat Profit Partnership, but is now operating under Beef + Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ) funding.

It submitted an extension plan for 2021/22 to B+LNZ. This was approved, giving access to $2000 of funding from the levy-funded organisation.

Former facilitator and group member, Ellie Cranswick, of Kekerengu, says group members expect the $2000 will cover administration and some facilitation costs. Members are also looking to commit a nominal sum (for example under $800 each per year) to continue with the traditional action group model with a trained facilitator and a subject matter expert.

Caroline Houghton, rural insurer and group member, stepped up to take on the administration role when then facilitator and farmer Cranswick went on maternity leave. Together they now run group administration. Houghton organized the recent day in her personal capacity.

She says being in the group is a great way to develop her understanding of farming. 

“After my first trip to Bluff Station I realised it was gold to have time spent onfarm with women.”

They have found there are skill sets within the group to have a meaningful day, without paying for a guest speaker for a topic each time.

Cranswick said the aim is to have a subject matter expert each meeting. However, it is possible to find good speakers that don’t charge. 

“It can be win-win where it is also providing air time for the rural professional and their business too.”

Cranswick says a core number of group members often bring along guests – for example daughters, female staff members or neighbours, and this works well at keeping attendance up towards 14.

“Sometimes members can’t make it, with ill children for example.

“We are keen to follow the small-group model but the nature of the group means that we have slightly higher membership, which equates to a suitable number at each meeting.

Cranswick says the reason we focus on being a ladies group is to provide an opportunity to have our own time off farm to work on ourselves or the business – to prioritise ourselves.  Most discussion groups are set up for couples and often women don’t feel confident to speak up,” Cranswick said.

The Action Group has toured to Canterbury – to the Zinos’ farm, a horticulture business on Conway Flat, and the NZ Merino Company as well as joining with other Action Groups on a tour through Wairarapa. Visits have been made to local sheep and beef farms Leefield and Tempello.

The Marlborough Group’s extension plan lists four days planned for 2022. This is slightly fewer than under RMPP but more sustainable for the group, Cranswick said.

B+LNZ South Island general manager John Ladley says more than 100 action groups and others are continuing to work on a self-funded basis. He didn’t have exact numbers, but said, at the end of the RMPP programme 40% of action groups indicated they planned to self-fund. They are not signed on via B+LNZ so are not listed.

Each new action group is eligible for a B+LNZ kick-start funding of $2000 to pay for their facilitator. Funding for existing groups is contingent on submitting an extension plan and completing a survey at the 10-month anniversary. Funding is in place until September 2023

It is estimated B+LNZ spends a further $2000 in kind in staff time in supporting each group.

Ladley says facilitator training has continued with 32 new facilitators trained at Dunedin and Napier courses. Three more sessions are planned for early 2022 and there is a waiting list, perhaps due to an attractive MPI subsidy for the course. An alumni programme for trained facilitators is also under way, Ladley said at its height 229 RMPP groups  were running. 

Sheep replace cattle   

In November the Northern South Island Agri Action Group visited the Allans’ Awatere new purchase, The Downs. 

They saw the results of a big effort to clean out ‘difficult-to-muster’ cattle first hand, as well as improvements made to neighboring Ballochdale which was bought by the Allan’s in 2014. All up, with the original hill farm Corleggy, Kelly and Grant farm 3300 hectares. It is run as one farming business with Ballochdale (438ha), Corleggy (2200ha) and the Downs (700ha) now forming a tidy square parcel of land.

Kelly and Grant are helped by stock manager Wiremu Jarrett and casual musterer Greg Salton.

Kelly helps manage the 1800 mixed age Corriedale ewes, 400 hoggets and 180 cattle at the lowland end of the farm. It’s a 45 minute drive for her, but fits with dropping their three boys to school at Seddon. Corleggy runs 2500 merino ewes and 190 cattle and the homestead is in the Medway, further up the Awatere.

Controlling cattle numbers at The Downs has seen a huge bounce back in feed and, combined with the high clover pastures at Ballochdale, ewes are set to wean impressive lambs. The Corriedale ewes lamb September 1. Any store lambs are sold back to the Wilfield Stud lamb programme, as Wilfield Stud supplies sires. 

Kelly is delighted with the pasture recovery and number of clover plants – mainly sub-clover, suckling and white clover in the wetter areas. Fencing repairs at the Downs is underway and a stock water system is under construction which will allow subdivision and more uniform grazing. 

Kelly is a keen member of her action group and said it is great to have the group back together. 

“There has been a huge amount of learning since I joined and increased confidence to apply what I have learnt to our farm business.”

Ellie Cranswick, member of the Action Group that visited the Allan’s, said Kelly has a real passion for hands-on farming.

“It is obvious that she is a driving force in their business and within our discussion group. She is the primary contact farmer for our group, and is involved in brainstorming topic ideas.”