Hill country farmers Ted and Becca Jefferd are keen to support initiatives to help point farmers in the right direction. The couple, who farm sheep and beef on 570 hectares north-west of Gisborne, are part of a farmer focus group which provided input into the Hill Country Futures Partnership Programme.
“We all know farming is great a lot of the time,” says Ted. “But it can be really tough too.”
Ange McFetridge, Design and Capability Lead for Beef + Lamb New Zealand, says the focus group played an important part in development of the programme.
“We wanted to interview a group who were representative of people living in hill country to help us to future proof our work.
“We held a face-to-face meeting with them and got a tremendous amount of insights, about their aspirations for their farms and hill country farming for the future, and also their frustrations.
“They all know about working through succession and the stewardship role they have and they really care about what they are doing for future generations. They are all thinking about the world differently and the things that are important to them, the environment and business health.”
Ange and her team later held a second meeting with the focus group.
“We wanted to show them what we had done with their insights and to test some of the conceptual work and deliverables to gain their feedback on the utility of that. It was important to us to validate that we were on the right track and ensure hill country farmers had an active voice in what we were doing.”
Ted’s parents moved to their farm in 1995 and he always knew that he wanted to follow them into farming. He went to Smedley Cadet Training Farm in the Hawke’s Bay, followed by gaining a diploma in farm management from Lincoln University.
A ‘split’ OE of several years followed spending NZ summers shearing here before heading to the UK to do the same during summers there. He returned to the farm in 2015 where he’s made a number of “small changes but nothing major”.
He sees education as vital to the future of hill country farming.
“We have so much to learn from one another – farming is probably the one industry where everyone is happy to share their secrets.
“I think there are opportunities to further promote our red meat product overseas and the messages about how it is sustainably produced.”
As part of that, Ted sees the importance of ‘real farming stories’ being shared – one of the key areas of the Hill Country Futures Partnership programme.
“Most people who come into farming do so from a rural background. High numbers of sheep and beef farmers in New Zealand are over 50 years of age. It’s critical to keep young people coming through.
“The wider public can have very strong views on farming. I feel very strongly about getting the real facts out there - that most hill country farmers have relatively few livestock compared to the very large areas they are grazing, so our footprint on the land is minimal and our red meat and wool are very naturally produced.”
While Ted feels the Gisborne area hasn’t yet been overly impacted by regulations addressing climate change, he is very aware of the effects that they are having elsewhere.
“Certainly, for hill country farmers in Southland, the regulations are having a severe impact. We need to get more knowledge about hill country farming out there and get our stories told.
“Hill country farmers are important to New Zealand. In terms of land mass, hill country makes up the bulk of farms here. Prices for beef and lamb have held pretty steady throughout the pandemic and it is important for the New Zealand economy to have that overseas revenue coming in.
“I see conscious consumers as a major opportunity for the sector, along with the potential for a resurgence in demand for wool.”