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
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    READER COMMENTS

    Grow some business management
    12/07/2013 12:26:29 PM

    Well said Sam, finally someone willing to say it how it is. My family have farmed for 80 years and have been through some tough times, would never live export and manage their business like a well oiled machine, without taking risks, and do very well. As for those whining about Australias north? When you buy/lease useless land good for nothing except live export, with no domestic market access and relying on one VERY RISKY market, you get everything you deserve. That my friend is BAD business management right there. Support for AG R&D but end the support for greedy mismanagement.
    Graeme
    12/07/2013 1:14:27 PM

    Well said mate. Our fam has diversified as our local market closed when our abattoir packed up - we worked jobs to stay afloat and not once did we all whinge - many of the live export farmers seem to feel so entitled and ask people to thank them on their facebook pages etc. We never ask for thanks, why should we, we are bloody farmers and we are hard working just like many business owners, you do what you have to do to survive. North Australia is crazy - set up all on indonesias imports and for years it's been known that its going to end, and what? Nothing but whinging.
    peter
    12/07/2013 2:45:46 PM

    Great article, Sam! I'm so sick of the bellyaching from those who wouldn't know hard work if it bit them on their arse. Good farming is adapting to the circumstances. The whingers would be better off leaving the land.
    Pam
    12/07/2013 3:46:28 PM

    Well said Sam, We all love our homes :) and years ago farmers would prepare for bad times by stock-piling in the good times as everyone else should.
    Takeaway Owner
    13/07/2013 10:09:32 AM

    NOBODY MOVE... or the potato cake gits it...
    LilyT
    13/07/2013 12:57:20 PM

    Very well said, Sam. Aggressive whiners who suck at business management give decent farmers a bad name. I know several people who grew up on farms who find the behaviour and constant whinging of live export farmers in particular, extremely tiresome.
    Barker
    13/07/2013 3:01:16 PM

    Good on you Sam great article. Time some of these complaining farmers took notice of what you have to say.
    Richard Wilton
    13/07/2013 7:58:49 PM

    Australian cattle producers as a whole are doing a great job. The problem is we have to contend with huge off farm costs such as transport and meatworks. The markets we sell our beef into have huge tariffs. American beef producers receive about 40% more for their cattle. The small business operater dosnt have these problems so before you put pen to paper go out and do some proper research.
    Dunart
    14/07/2013 10:16:06 AM

    When were the last good times? Easy to say, but reality is different
    Y
    14/07/2013 10:57:15 AM

    Yes Ag is changing and hopefully our business is moving forward to meet the challenge. One of the real issues is Gov policy, including FTA outcomes which are signed off by Gov with complete disregard for Ag. It the externally driven outcomes that have the most impact and Ag needs to find its. Voice in Gov policy formation . Where is the NFF.?
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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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