Get stuck in or get out

When poor business management is clouded by nostalgic longings ... we see farmers crying broke

NOTE: After fielding more than 100 comments on this article in a short space of time, Sam decided to respond to some of the points brought up in an article headed 'We are where we are, because of the choices we’ve made'. Click here to read his response.

HAVE you ever heard of a struggling takeaway shop owner putting their hand out or demanding the Minister for Small Business deliver government assistance in the form of tax breaks, grants and support?

Nope, they go broke with little consideration from anyone. So why do we tolerate whining farmers who are equally as poor at running their businesses?

I guarantee in every regional postcode across similar soil types, rainfall and water access you’ll find farmers with healthy farms, in a productive business operation - while over the fence, others will be struggling to make ends meet, on run-down properties with unfairly treated livestock in poor health.

“Management issues” is a very kind explanation for this, not forgetting both operations requiring hard work.

Farm management and business management are two completely different things - and the farmers that do both well are the ones who don't make the news.

They’re buying out their neighbours, leasing more land and getting better margins in their returns. They’re far more resilient to droughts and market fluctuations and with technology and constant learning they’re getting bigger and better at what they do.

But when poor business management is clouded by clinging to nostalgic belongings or hereditary ideals, then we see farmers wind up on the evening news crying broke.

Graziers and croppers seem the most common, as medium-term returns are perhaps easier to manage poorly - unlike intensive farming systems for pigs or chooks where planning, calculations and forecasts on a regular basis are critical.

The carbon-copy farm management styles of the early 1900s are bleeding wounds of the industry. Of course the media coverage doesn't help. It’s more interesting to see a farmer struggling with a sentimental asset, a ‘romantic’ lifestyle gone wrong than a takeaway shop owner who’s having to sell up or even threatening to shoot his potato cakes when it all goes pear-shaped.

Through the media, there’s a consumer perception that farmers are “whingeing”, “luckless” or “in-need”. As a result, we get a consumer who feels pity and negative emotion for that stereotype (along with that image of an old man in a shabby hat standing in a field).

Not a good motivator.

From here a bad attitude is brewing, with some farmers saying consumers have to “be thankful” for what farmers do - as if it’s the consumers fault.

It’s always someone else’s fault.

It’s easier to blame governments, consumers and retailers than work out that simple equation – that income must exceed expenses.

It’s no secret farming is made up of good years, bad years and everything else; it’s been happening for hundreds of years. So why with all the education, technology and knowledge out there are people still not ready for the untimely but inevitable challenges we face?

"We are not a farming family, we are a business - (if) you act like business people and you get treated like business people and if you think like business people, you will be successful," banana grower Barrie Mackay told ABC's Landline earlier this year.

I once heard that the definition of stupidity was doing the same thing again and again and wondering why you don’t get a different result.

So let’s swallow some pride, make some decisions and take full responsibility for farm and business management. Our ag industry is in need of some tough love.

  • Sam Trethewey is a third generation farmer from Tasmania, now based in Victoria. Sam's message is 'think clearly, get muddy': inviting everyone to be clearer in and on farming by rolling up their sleeves, learning and taking action.

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    Sam Trethewey

    Sam Trethewey

    grew up farming down south and now commentates on agriculture across Australia
    Date: Newest first | Oldest first


    9/07/2013 8:59:52 AM

    Richard, the writing has been on the walls for live export for a long time now. The Kiwi's saw it and got out. Why arent the northern cattle men looking to produce halal meat in Australia for their indonesian customers.
    Just 1 Farmer
    9/07/2013 9:00:35 AM

    A brave stance Sam - few people who agree with you would put their name to it. Including me.
    Jen from the bush
    9/07/2013 10:07:31 AM

    bb you need to check your facts on nz and live exports. You sound like you are repeating AA blurb sheets and they often dodge the truth. You also need to check the cost of kill/hd in Au and rethink your suggestion
    Get serious
    9/07/2013 11:16:18 AM

    Don't you think the northern cattlemen should supply the Indonesians with electricity and fridges too? The meat might get a bit stinky otherwise, halal or not.
    9/07/2013 11:56:50 AM

    Sam could get a job writing for TV shows like Mcloud's daughters he is so believable. Cocky sums it up well. Not all farmers are given a silver spoon and most of us are working our arse off to survive and we don't need to be told how to suck eggs! Especially when we have been battling out a living for a lot longer than the Y generation. Or in some cases ME generation not us.
    Farmer Bill
    9/07/2013 11:57:09 AM

    Good article Sam, However the people you are largely talking about are a protected species, National Party voters.They will keep em poor as long as the votes keep coming.
    Captain Average
    9/07/2013 12:08:52 PM

    Written for internet traffic stats! A very condescending stance & cocky one on all accounts Sam. I don't support your claims at all, the industry is savy but to make the assumption those of us on the ropes or run down are incompetent at business is offensive. Farming is a long term game & different economic laws apply to it compared to a short term business model selling chips - didn't you listen in first year economics? As some people here suggest; get some rungs on the board with a decade of drought, restricted irrigation, burnt out or flooded, family & stop chasing internet traffic stats.
    Sam's Dad
    9/07/2013 12:26:20 PM

    Good article boy, Richard is right, that is the decision on the live cattle trade was knee jerk reaction by a jerk reacting to others because we are, as an industry not strong enough in the eyes of our customers, the regulators and ourselves. Theirs an old joke goes something like this. Question, what do a baby and a farmer have in common. Answer They are both whinges, but sooner or later the baby will give up. Guys it's great to have a discussion with like minded people, lets play the ball not the man. Perhaps some of the negativity expressed shows the symptoms plaguing OZ AG.
    9/07/2013 12:52:05 PM

    I 100% agree with every word, Sam. Well done for being blunt and honest - and truthful. The people who disagree with you are no doubt the same people who are blaming everyone and everything else but themselves for poor business performance. There are plenty of farmers out there making a great living off the land, and buying the farm next door. We need to champion these success stories through the media to help change this terrible image of whingeing farmers and the hard luck story. Run a farm like a business and if it turns out you're not much good at that, then get out!
    9/07/2013 1:06:00 PM

    Fantastic reading - Great article Sam and thanks for having the guts to lay it on the line, you are so right. Richard your name suits you well, stick to your day job mate. As for GMcF a typical 'oldie' we can see that you embrace change and really know how to motivate people for having a go! - Get back under your rock. Give these young people a break - stop the negativity and let us all have some open dialogue without the put-downs. Lets hear from more young farmers, Australia needs you.
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    Get MuddyTo think clearly in farming and about farming, you need to get muddy - commit, roll up your sleeves and get involved. SAM TRETHEWEY gets stuck into some of the issues facing those on the land.


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