MORE investment in luring and retaining farm staff will lead to more prosperous and efficient farming enterprises.
That was the message delivered by 2015 Nuffield scholar Reece Curwen at the Grains Research Development Corporation's Farm Business Update in Corrigin on Tuesday, February 7.
The South Stirling grower visited dozens of farming enterprises in 16 different countries as part of his scholarship research, exploring the dynamics between family farming and a labour management system.
Mr Curwen said WA farmers needed to make investing in their employees a greater priority.
"I really think over the past 10 to 15 years we're victims of ourselves," he said.
"We've chosen to make big investments in bigger machinery and are making improvements in technology on farm before we're actually investing in people."
Mr Curwen said after researching different agricultural labour systems there was no clear answer on how best to acquire and keep staff.
"There is no single silver bullet, however there were a number of one per centers which collectively could effectively make a significant difference to the working culture of your business," he said.
It was while visiting a 1200 hectare wheat and corn farm in Kansas, United States, that Mr Curwen learnt the benefits of open-book management.
He said the farm employees were involved in all aspects of business management.
"Every morning they sat together around the table and talked about whatever needed to be talked about, whether it be varieties, or purchases or planning.
"Those nine full-time employees became very experienced individuals through that exposure to business decisions and training.
"You really have to trust and believe in your worker, giving them the responsibility to get the job done is incredibly powerful when it comes to retaining them."
Mr Curwen said establishing a common goal with employees was also beneficial.
"Everybody needs to know why what they're doing is important and have a shared vision, three-year plans or five-year plans," he said.
"Understanding the employee's vision is really important, especially when the business has its own business goals and objectives.
"I'm sure the people that work for you and the partners of those people have plans as well.
"Understanding them and hopefully linking them all together can be invaluable, especially when it comes to engaging them in the long run.
"The next step is developing some core values with team involvement.
"It's hard to fight against core values that you helped create and that can be very powerful when you're trying to instil a very strong working culture."
Mr Curwen recommended maintaining a good business reputation by treating staff well.
"Reputation from the outside can be really important when it comes to getting those A players that want to come and work for you.
"In Australia the number of people working in rural areas is decreasing and the market has changed and as a result employees are spoilt for choice.
"This means you need to create a point of difference between you and your neighbour or someone else in a different ag zone."
Mr Curwen said family situations, housing arrangements and facility conditions also needed to be considered.
He flagged several challenges in the years ahead as a new generation of farmers emerged.
"The next generation of people think differently, they're not really driven by money as much as previous generations so that's why getting them emotionally involved in the business is quite powerful as opposed to money.
"There's some big challenges for this industry to promote our businesses and industry going forward and it takes a bit of courage but the most successful businesses were those that delegated responsibility properly."