Reaping rewards from a change in tack

01 Apr, 2014 02:00 AM
Erin Green, Yuna, Western Australia, wants to identify ideas to help small rural communities thrive.
I’d like to know if other communities in other countries have the same challenges
Erin Green, Yuna, Western Australia, wants to identify ideas to help small rural communities thrive.

ON the Green family’s farm near Yuna in Western Australia’s Wheatbelt, Erin Green is watching another crop go in.

It’s the seventh since two years of drought prompted a major change in direction for the operation – and the fifth since they expanded their holdings by about 30 per cent.

Gone are the sheep and most of the internal fences in favour of a specialist focus on grain growing under a controlled traffic system based on 12.2-metre multiples and 3m wheel spacings.

They’ve also increased their holdings by about 30 per cent with the Greens – Erin and husband Brady and Brady’s parents, Ray and Denise - now cropping about 8500 hectares.

But the most defining change to the family’s operation in recent years is perhaps not the decisions they’ve made but how such decisions are made.

Four years ago, they set up a farm advisory board to help guide big decisions and strategic planning.

It meets three to four times a year and involves input from not just the family and their farm consultant and accountant but three independent and trusted advisors – a Victorian farmer, a former banker and a former rural agency manager now running his own retail business.

“The board has been amazing. It has really helped us learn a lot about our financials and taken us from the usual family farm structure to more of a business approach,” Erin said.

“It’s also taken a lot of the emotion out of the decisions and made us more strategic in how we plan and how we make decisions around things like risk and big capital purchases.

“It’s got us not only thinking about tomorrow but the medium and long term and how our plans will come together.”

Erin acknowledges for many the idea of sharing such detailed financial information with people outside the immediate business would be a confronting prospect.

“But we could see from the start we would get so much out of it – and we only bring in people who we trust and value.”

She said the make-up of the board was reviewed annually to ensure they had the right balance of skills and to give individual board members the ability to opt out of the process.

“Although so far nobody has wanted to go!

“All of the board members definitely value being part of it and not only do they see us getting a lot out of it but they say they get a lot out of it too.”

Erin said while they sometimes questioned the need for a meeting – and sometimes they were delayed – she said they walked out of every one, energised and on track.

“One good decision can save you tens of thousands of dollars so it’s definitely worthwhile.”

On the Rabobank Young Farmers Master Class:

For Erin, the Master Class offers an opportunity to look globally for solutions to some very real local challenges such as retaining people in small rural communities and ensuring they had access to good mobile and internet services.

“It’s also about how to keep community spirit alive in these areas and stop the burnout,” Erin said.

“When someone sells out and their neighbour buys the property, it means one less volunteer in the community – and when things like the tennis club and the local golf club and the CWA and the play group are all run by the same people, that’s a big load on top of running your own business and looking after your family.

“I’d like to know if other communities in other countries have the same challenges and what they do to help each other out.”

As the WA co-ordinator for Partners in Grain – a not-for-profit that provides training and workshops for growers – Erin said she would also be interested to learn more about how training was rolled out in other countries.

“I’m very interested in technology and how people use it and how it can benefit a community.”

Read more

  • To find out more about the Young Farmers Master Class click here
  • To read Erin's blog click here
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    Sally White

    is a former editor of The Land.


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