Andy and Nic Gardiner have significantly lifted their Tararua farm business’s gross revenue over the past three years. They have improved ewes’ body condition and lamb birthweights, are docking more lambs, and boosting lamb survival to sale.

Andy and Nic attribute many of these gains to their involvement in a Red Meat Profit Partnership (RMPP) Action Group with its strong focus on business planning.

The RMPP Action Network model supports 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 onfarm.

The couple, who farm 670ha near Pahiatua and a 92ha finishing block at Dannevirke, run 2700 ewes, 700 hoggets and 120 Angus cows that calve to a terminal Simmental bull. They also have Friesian bulls and trade lambs. They source sheep from the Motu-nui stud, cattle from Kerrah Simmentals and Angus cattle from the Stokman stud.

Their farm is predominantly winter wet and summer safe. However, with summers becoming drier and most of their land being hill country they were struggling to finish lambs on the hills with growth rates of 40-50 g/day and unpredictable seasons.

Andy says they saw joining the Action Group as an opportunity to improve their business planning and to learn more about their business, its long term resilience, how it compared with other businesses and how they could increase its performance.

“We also saw it as a way to get together with like-minded people. We like the fact that a lot of couples go along together and that it is business based – a lot of discussion groups are just about sheep and grass and you tend to get into a rut. This is sheep and grass but much more too, from management decisions to leadership.”

The Gardiners say the facilitation aspect of the Action Group model is critical to its success.

“Without the facilitator doing a decent job it isn’t going to work,” says Andy. “When we started we spent the first two to three meetings doing business work, like mission statements and financials. That was a great start because it gave us time to get to know one another and then you are more confident to share information further down the line.”

The group has worked with subject matter experts on a range of issues from sheep breeding systems to winter and summer crops, environmental issues, and fertilisers and cropping. Andy says that has brought significant learnings but that peer-to-peer learning and support within the group has been equally valuable.

“They aren’t all local farmers, there’s a real mix, all the way up to Hastings with a variety of different types of farming and climate but there’s still a lot of things you can pick up from other people and bring back to your farm. We really enjoy that diversity.”

Opportunities Andy and Nic identified through specialist speakers and peer-to-peer learning have included moving from a 12-month to a six-month shearing policy.

Using the group as a sounding board also helped give them confidence to invest further in their business where production and performance gains could be made. This has included building new covered yards to enable the pre-lamb shearing of ewes.