Farmers’ business management and leadership skills will increasingly become the key determinant in running successful agricultural operations in Australia, Rabobank CEO Peter Knoblanche has cautioned the industry.
Mr Knoblanche, who heads one of Australia’s largest agricultural banks, said traditional farming skills had been “relegated to a given” for the country’s current and emerging rural entrepreneurs, as they navigate an increasingly complex, volatile and competitive – but also potentially much more rewarding – market place.
“The time when farmers just had to be good at production alone to run a successful farming business is frankly completely behind us now,” he said. “Those skills are a given. The best operators and those who will succeed and thrive into the future are those who are also exceptional business people and leaders.
“Being a good farmer is not just about growing and managing your crops or livestock well. As farmers are well aware, it is a very complex industry which involves everything from cutting-edge financial management through to commodity hedging and other risk management strategies to supply chain management, consumer research and marketing, the use and application of ag tech, human resource management, governance and sustainability management – to name just some of the elements.”
Speaking on the opening of applications for 2018’s Rabobank Business Management Programs, Mr Knoblanche said Australian farmers were increasingly recognising the importance of investing in and developing their own strategic business skills and other capabilities.
A recent survey undertaken by the bank had shown that nation-wide, more than two-thirds of farmers reported that upskilling through education and training had an important role to play in better managing their farm business, with the majority having an appetite to further develop their knowledge and skills in business planning and management and emerging technologies.
Mr Knoblanche said approximately 70 per cent of those surveyed indicated upskilling through education and training was important to improve management of their farm business. This was across a range of commodities and farm sizes, but more recognised among farmers with operations generating gross incomes of $500,000 and above.
While in commodities, the strongest interest was shown to be among cotton and beef and sheep producers.
Rabobank’s two annual Business Management Programs – the Farm Managers Program for up-and-coming farmers and the Executive Development Program for experienced farm business owners or senior managers – are designed to equip primary producers with the building blocks to take their business to the next level.
Northern Territory beef producer Emma Brown graduated from the Executive Development Program (EDP) in 2017.
Ms Brown – who with her husband Adrian are partners in, and manage, two large cattle stations, ‘Amungee Mungee’ in the western Gulf and ‘Walhallow Station’ in the Barkly Tablelands – said she continued to see ongoing education as critical for their business.
“As far as I’m concerned, education is the key to everything and agriculture is no exception,” she said.
“With the agricultural landscape becoming increasingly competitive and producers carrying more debt than they might have done 20 to 30 years ago, it is so important to be at the forefront of your industry and to improve in any way you can.”
As well as running their beef operation, the Browns also operate a successful stock water design, manufacturing, and installation business in Katherine, Northern Stock Water.
“We purchased the properties in 2014/15 with support of a business partner with the intention of dramatically improving the infrastructure on the properties and boosting productivity,” she said.
Since then, they have almost completed the infrastructure program on their home property, installing an additional 200 watering points and 800 kilometres of poly pipe across its 324,000 hectares. They have now moved onto the larger second property with the intention of more than doubling carrying capacity on both.
Ms Brown said while their partnership to purchase the two properties meant they had an existing robust business plan, there were many other aspects of the Executive Development Program that have added value to their business.
“A lot of what I took away from the program was about self-improvement, I particularly enjoyed the subject on negotiation,” she said.
“We have to negotiate constantly, and it’s an area that I’ve really struggled with. Since the EDP I’ve been a lot bolder and more confident in my negotiations.
“Similarly, improving my public speaking and presentation skills has been valuable, while I don’t often get asked to speak, when I do have to stand up and talk in front of people I have felt much more confident because of what I learned on the program.”
Attending the course with other like-minded producers meant Ms Brown felt learning continued well outside the classroom.
“The quality of attendees is second to none, everyone at the EDP is wanting to push the boundaries of their business, we all want to get better and get as much out of the course as we can,” she said.
“It’s meant that we now have a great network of people from very diverse commodities that can act as a sounding board for ideas and feedback.
“There are so many similar challenges that face farmers across Australia and New Zealand and the EDP provides a platform to share how we are all tackling those challenges in our own way.
“At the end of the day we’re all attending the program because we are striving to improve our businesses and it’s fantastic to be able to do that in such a relatable learning environment.”
Both courses run as residential programs. The 2018 Farm Managers Program will be held from June 17 to 22 2018 in South Australia’s Barossa Valley. The first week-long module of the Executive Development Program will be staged from August 19 to 24, 2018, with the second week-long module scheduled for July 14 to 19, 2019.
Applications for the FMP close on Friday, April 27 2018 and for the EDP on Friday May, 25 2018.
Featured Image: Emma Brown
Image courtesy of Rabobank