In 2013 the small New Zealand sheep dairying industry was facing several challenges, on- and off-farm. The Boosting exports of the emerging NZ dairy sheep industry (aka ‘Dairy Sheep’) programme used a co-innovation approach to these challenges, developing research with industry partners and collaborators. Partners and collaborators included Callaghan Innovation, Victoria University, and Otago University, as well as industry partners Kingsmeade Cheese, Blue River Dairy/ Antara Ag Farms, Waituhi Kuratau Trust (WKT)/ Maui Milk, and Spring Sheep Milk, who ranged from small-scale sheep cheese makers to large-scale operations.
Trial work was conducted from 2014 to 2019, and covered sheep milk composition, health benefits, increased milk production, and environmental footprint of dairy sheep. The research was both on and off-farm, with the majority of on-farm work conducted on research partners’ farms. Throughout this period supporting work was done to enable and co-develop this research, including the following activities:
The Dairy Sheep programme delivered significant impacts to the dairy sheep industry, including solutions for lamb rearing and feeding; data on the environmental footprint of sheep dairying; successful processing options for liquid sheep milk products; and work on health benefits of New Zealand sheep milk. The programme was recognized with an MBIE Gold Star rating in 2018 and an AgResearch Impact Prize in 2019.
Researchers and industry partners interviewed about the project identified the following successes:
Interviews with researchers and industry partners identified the following challenges and success factors for the project:
An evaluation of the Dairy Sheep programme highlighted that it is vital for co-innovation programmes to have people with the right skills, particularly around communication, flexibility, and managing complexity and conflict. Additionally, the evaluation indicated that developing shared understandings and building relationships take time, but are essential to the success of research programmes with industry.