Chris and Kim Leigh-Mackenzie

Northland pilot farmers Chris and Kim Leigh- Mackenzie have reduced debt and boosted farm production thanks to expert advice and help with farm improvements – and they're enjoying life more as well. Insufficient cashflow had previously limited their ability to make changes on their 847ha (650ha winter effective) hill country farm, near Arapohue, south east of Dargaville, but they've made huge strides since becoming RMPP pilot farmers.

With access to expert advice from farm consultant Bob Thompson as well as Greg Clark from Greenlea Premier Meats and other experts such as such as system designer Tom Chisholm from Agdesign and their vet, they've been able to speed up improvements on the farm. They've accelerated an upgrade of their bull beef operation, moving from sticks and string fencing to a techno fencing system, making the bulls easier to manage and reducing stress .

"Chris and Kim had started fencing, but the pilot has just given them a huge shot in the arm. It's been a great encouragement to them," says Thompson. "They've battled with some pretty difficult yard situations so I helped with scales and getting their yard sorted out. This is an amazing young couple that started with bugger all and grafted their way through some extremely challenging situations."

Greg Clark says he regards his role as a connector - either to information or the right people. He held initial meetings with Chris and Kim to discuss their aspirations and how he could facilitate making this happen. "Without the pilot Chris and Kim possibly would have had a more staged approach like, 'this season we will look at getting the farm mapped and then we will look at putting the infrastructure in place', whereas now it is just like, 'let's map it, let's get it done, let's push ahead'," Clark says. "They got some very specific farm consultancy advice which blossomed the whole, 'let's get it done rather than let's do bits', approach.

The 10 year plan become a five year plan." The Leigh-Mackenzies have worked hard on the farm since they bought it as equity managers with four other equity partners in 2008, taking on a big mortgage for the rundown property and knowing there was plenty of work needed. "My attitude is just get out of bed and do it," says Chris. "When we got here I sprayed gorse and in one year we did 125,000 litres of gorse spray.

No excuses, just get in and get it done. Gorse never sleeps." Eight years later, much of the gorse has gone and kilometres of polywire electric fences have been put up to create an intensive bull beef operation. Production has increased every year with current production of 220,000kg of carcass weight a year, well on the way to a targeted 300,000kg. "We think that's achievable, we've still got a lot more weeds to spray and we'd like to grow another one to two tonnes per ha of grass as well. We would be lucky if we grew more than 6 tonnes of dry matter per ha at the moment " Chris says. Over the past 12 months they've made huge strides and have managed to pay off $100,000 of debt plus a $45,000 tax bill.

A new weighing system using EID tagging, put in as part of the pilot, has enabled them to make farming decisions based on accurate data while on farm, giving them greater confidence. "Every animal's tag gets read every time it comes through the yards. We know every bull's life history – where it was purchased, its entire life's weight gain profile, drench history, any treatments and even where it has been on the farm and its weight gain profile relative to the block it was grown on," says Chris. "We can now download the carcass weights of the individual animals from Greenlea. We can work out yields and work out which areas of the farm are better performing." They've also increased the rate of subdivision of the farm, allowing more efficient stock management and better utilisation of pasture.

The farm has been mapped by drone, an improvement over old farm photographs when planning subdivision. New systems have freed up time for Chris and Kim so they can focus more on improving their farm and less on just the day-to-day running of it. They are in a much happier space and feel they are moving forwards. "The pilot has taken a non-sustainable system and converted it into a sustainable system," says Bob Thompson.