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

    savannan
    15/07/2013 7:18:59 AM

    Google young "Sam Trethewey" and you get "Gen Y - no more -no less". Just tell him he's great and get on with the important stuff.
    Nikki
    15/07/2013 7:19:18 AM

    - ' Jen from the bush'- most sb are owned outright, so there is no landlord who comes & fixes a tap. The overheads for sb are astronomical. No grants for sb, no handouts, in fact it is sb that usually carry & contribute to all of the handouts/grants given to everyone else, farmers think it is their right to simply pay for things " when we get paid" SB does not have that privelage, whilst complaining they never have money, they still seem to drive around in new cars, Many SB are " inherited" too, if it goes bust noone cares, no handouts/,grants
    Cattle Advocate
    16/07/2013 5:37:40 AM

    A successfull farmer in reliable east Aus country wouldnt buy a farm without checking its 100yr rainfall records first. Look how far WA AG has come in the last 100yrs with its pioneers in the 50s showing the world what could be done with 6000ac of light country and super and lupins. Their descendants now are earning export income to help pay for Aus high standard of living yet WA's reward has been to be told their milk is only worth $1/lt holding back more exports and forcing WA heifers onto LE. Thanks to processors like Thomas Foods International Aus now has a healthy export carcass market.
    Cattle Advocate
    16/07/2013 5:52:34 AM

    A farmer who retired comfortably after farming a semi desert through droughts, mice plauges, high interest rates and wheat quotas when asked what his secret was just said that in the good times he would sow 4000acs of wheat and hope to reap 4000tns but he knew that he might only reap 200tns. He would always reap his 100 bales of wool and in the bad droughts when sheep prices where less than the freight to a far away abattoir instead of shooting them he would let them loose into the scrub and muster them when the drought broke. He was the boss on his farm in partnership with mother nature.
    Sam_Trethewey
    17/07/2013 9:42:01 AM

    Thanks for the comments and feedback everyone. They've been fascinating and although a mixed response; I appreciate them all. I've written a rebuttal that I invite you to read that explains why I wrote it. You'll find it at http://trethewey.com.au/?p=350 Sam
    KateC
    17/07/2013 10:55:44 AM

    Great article Sam, I've always been intrigued by the whingers who blame every other factor than their own management, when their peers are kicking goals. If it was the takeaway shop/hairdresser/ supply store business they would have been out years ago. To those who have a go at Sam with the aged based remarks to prove he is incorrect - never again wonder why youth don't want to come back to ag - I'll bet these attitudes have a lot to answer for.
    gabriel
    17/07/2013 4:43:52 PM

    Sam, sounds like you are airing your dirty laundry You didn't try to chase your dreams on an old horse, did you? Plenty of blokes out there, walked off family concerns and work half their lives to stand on their own turf and put their money where their mouth is. I don't like whingers either, but I won't put up with bullies and I won't turn the other cheek when my neighbors are in trouble. I do what I do because I can, and I've earned the right to. I won't be judged until I'm finished MY journey.
    EB
    17/07/2013 7:57:11 PM

    Brilliant article Sam. I am Sydney born & raised, now running 7000 acres with my husband. We have spent alot of time & money educating ourselves & investing in excellent advisors. There is a lot of money to be made in farming. If you're not making it, then there is something very wrong with what you are doing. Just because your parents handed you down a property, does not necessarily mean you have the brains or the capacity to operate it effectively. Expecting govt financial support is nonsense. Also, I agree wth Young Farmer - farmers, put on a clean shirt & hat & stop looking so scruffy!
    justdoitstu
    18/07/2013 7:52:40 AM

    Well said Sam. Nothing wrong with saying it how you see it. I once saw a grazier in north east vic use a govt drought hand out to purchase a fodder factory even though all experts told him it wouldn't work. That factory is now sitting dead still a statue to poor farm management and worse govt policy. Meanwhile his neighbors invested in more land a new solar powered water system new markets and new tech without any assistance. One is now broke but has a nice white elephant fodder factory and the other is looking to buy more land. Get on with it.
    BTD
    28/07/2013 8:34:43 AM

    Gday Sam - thanks for your blog, which we always find informative and entertaining. Is there a way to sign up to your posts so we receive them regularly in the Inbox? Keep up the great work - always think a sign of an effective blog functioning at high capacity is when the Comments section is just as readable and interesting as the Post itself! Feel free to say Gday on Twitter: @BTDOrg or on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Br idging-the-Divide/360543837376240
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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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