Dynamic farming duo Mark and Narelle Bettini, from Western Australia’s Pilbara, are the first husband and wife team to walk away with the annual Rabobank ‘Dr John Morris’ Business Development Prize.
The Bettinis were presented with the award in front of their fellow graduates of the 2015/16 Rabobank Executive Development Program for the strategic business plan they completed to boost the productivity of their expansive cattle operation through the development of an enhanced HR (staff management) policy and an infrastructure project to improve pasture efficiency.
Mark and Narelle each completed individual – yet complementary – projects as part of attending the Executive Development Program, an intensive ‘mini-MBA’-style course for progressive Australian and New Zealand’s farmers. Undertaking the program together enabled them to “return home on the same page with a clear plan for the future direction of their business”, Narelle said.
Receiving the $5,000 cash prize presented by Rabobank Australia chief executive officer Peter Knoblanche at this year’s Executive Development Program graduation dinner in Sydney, Narelle said their joint-award reflected the importance of good partnership in business, with Narelle overseeing the HR side of the business and Mark, business development, operations and financial management.
The Bettinis who run ‘Degrey Station’, part of the family’s beef operation east of Port Hedland, said their projects essentially stemmed from a “light-bulb” moment on the first module of the program, where they were made to question, “are you doing the best in your business with what you’ve got?”.
“This made us have a long, hard look at ourselves and our business to ensure we are playing to our strengths and utilising our core assets,” Mark said.
For Mark, this entailed “extending and defending the core business” by looking to improve pasture utilisation by reducing grazing radiuses and sustainably increasing stocking rates in an effort to increase scale and kilograms of beef produced.
“CSIRO research, conducted on ‘Degrey Station’ supported the view that cattle walking long distances to watering points not only use more energy (and thereby hinder their weight gain potential), but do not efficiently utilise the pasture,” he said, “with some areas being underutilised and others, heavily grazed.
“This prompted me to look at rolling out an infrastructure program and we are now in the process of installing an additional 55 watering points on our property.”
To date, ten water points have been installed.
“Instead of only relying on our own internal labour to increase the water access for the cattle, we will be employing contractors,” he said.
“This has been a significant ‘mind-shift’ for us, but we are now at a scale where we can’t do everything ourselves and it is sound management for us to bring in additional resources.”
Mark said the water infrastructure project is expected to increase their braham-cross breeder herd on ‘Degrey Station’ by an additional 1,200 head and, in the longer term, it could see the herd increase by 50 per cent from current levels.
“It will be an ongoing process to check and assess our pastures to ensure our stocking rates are sustainable,” he said, “but now we have the business plan in place, it is something we can look at in the future for our other stations.”
Given the scale of the Bettinis’ operation, spanning four properties with 25 permanent employees and up to 20 seasonal employees, “the people in the business” are also integral to its success.
“If your staff are not engaged, it can cost your business with potential ramifications for productivity, workers compensation and animal welfare,” Narelle said. “After returning home from the first module of the Executive Development Program, I examined our HR policies and procedures to see how I could better structure this side of the business.
“While we don’t have trouble getting staff, and have a great pool of people that return to our business each season, we want to reduce our staff turnover by enticing quality staff to stay longer than one season.”
Integral to the Bettinis’ new HR model has been the re-writing of job descriptions, so candidates who apply for roles or those employees who already work in the business have clarity in terms of their core responsibilities and hence more autonomy.
Narelle said she understood the importance of people and having them engaged in the business, but the new procedures now ensured everyone in business knew what was expected of them.
“We employ a myriad of people from station hands, overseers, stock people and truck drivers to cooks and a governess. And, as we continue to expand our business, our new HR structure will make it easier to streamline this side of the operations.”
Narelle said the couple also strived to provide an enjoyable working environment for their staff.
“Work-life balance is really important and we want our employees to have the time off and leisure time so they enjoy where they are working,” she said.
The Bettinis said the Executive Development Program also emphasised the important philosophy to “keep it simple”.
“Some of the case studies presented by fellow farmers on the program showed their success stemmed from keeping it simple, having clear priorities for the business and just getting in there and getting the job done,” Mark said.
“We now feel very accountable for our business, and look at all our investments objectively to ensure that any money we expend generates a return on investment. It has to be ‘money well spent’ and have a tangible benefit, not just because it would be ‘nice to have’ – so this involves continually looking at the numbers.”