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Deer Industry New Zealand (DINZ) Passion2Profit manager Innes Moffat said there were now 29 advance parties, involving 352 of the industry's 1200 or so commercial deer farms and more than 30% of the industry's deer.
''There are eight APs operating across Otago and Southland, catering for farmers in different districts and with different interests,'' Mr Moffat said.
''For example there are environment APs in Central Otago and Southland; an AP catering for farmers who specialise in elk/wapiti; and a data group in Southland working on a short term project.
''The APs were set up to help everyday deer farmers achieve their personal and farm business goals by farming their deer well.
''They differ from previous initiatives to improve farm productivity in that they are farmer-led.
''As a result, they are enjoying widespread support across the country,'' he said.
''DINZ provides a facilitator for each group and, when AP members call for them, subject matter experts.
''In the first couple of years of an AP, the members tend to make management changes to improve the efficiency and productivity of their deer operations based on the suggestions of other members.
''Once they have made these management fixes, they can shift their focus to topics where specialist knowledge is required.''
This may be genetic improvement, deer nutrition or business planning - whatever the farmer members choose.
Also advance parties provide a good structure for farmers to come up to speed when things change, such as when regional councils roll out their water quality plans.
''All APs have made use of external expertise to a greater or lesser extent, but members seemingly become more receptive to it after the group has been operating for a couple of years.''
DINZ expects each AP to convene a regional workshop every two years, so the wider deer farming community gets flow-on benefits from the AP programme.
There is also an annual national workshop.
''We get good feedback from farmers who attend the workshops.
''They like to hear AP members talk about the results of changes they have made on their farms as a result of their involvement in an AP.
''They also like to get their questions answered by technical specialists.
''Good workshops don't have to involve large farmer field days, but it's OK if they do.
''We have had some of our best feedback from small workshops where farmers get down to the nitty gritty.
''We had a good one on forage analysis involving 20 farmers.
''Another, on risk analysis as a basis for deer health planning, involved 10 enthusiastic farmers.
''In general, we get the best results when there is a focus on one or two topics where farmers can have their questions answered.
''The least effective are forums where there are multiple speakers talking at farmers on unrelated topics.''
The AP programme has now run for six years, with the Ministry for Primary Industries partnering with DINZ with funding to help ensure their success.
In three years' time, MPI Primary Growth Partnership funding for the programme will come to an end. ''But this does not mean that advance parties, which are part of Passion2Profit, the deer industry's productivity improvement programme, will come to an end.''
DINZ is exploring different funding options.
DINZ levies currently fund 50% of the Advance Party costs and if farmers continue to support P2P, this could continue.
Mr Moffat said there was the capacity to include more farmers in APs.
He welcomed calls from deer farmers interested in taking part.
Contact Innes Moffat, 021 465-121 or Innes.Moffat@deernz.org
-By Trevor Walton