A fresh look at farm businesses

03 Jun, 2014 02:00 AM
Farmer and consultant Linda Eldredge.
We don't have enough agribusiness education capacity in rural areas
Farmer and consultant Linda Eldredge.

GROWING up on a pig, poultry and broadacre farm at Riverton in South Australia's Mid North, gave farmer and consultant Linda Eldredge a life-long interest in business and analytics.

"The pig and poultry industries in particular have always been a step ahead in analysing their production data," she said.

"My father was very involved in looking at production efficiencies on the farm and he gave me that passion for focusing on the management side of farming and trying to drive a strong agricultural sector."

After travelling overseas after school, Linda returned to her home region of the Mid North, where she and her husband run a mixed cropping and sheep property just outside of Clare. They also run another property in the Upper North near Jamestown.

Linda also had a 12-year career in the banking industry, working in the lending sector in particular.

"My experience working in the banking sector gave me the understanding how financiers look at different situations and analyse their risk," she said.

When her two children were only young, Linda returned to school as a mature age student to complete a degree at the University of Adelaide.

The now-defunct course – a Bachelor or Rural Enterprise Management - was completed by Linda by travelling back and forth from the Mid North to Adelaide over six years, as the online tools to study were not readily available at the time.

"I was originally going to go back to study agricultural science, but it was the management and innovation side of things that really interested me, which is why I continued on with my studies and eventually achieved an MBA," she said.

Linda went on to work for various training organisations after her studies, before going out on her own in business. Eldredge and Associates now brings training and consultancy services to the rural sector right across the nation.

"We don't have enough agribusiness education capacity in rural areas, particularly in applied education," she said.

"I have a real passion for making sure all the people in the farm business have a real engagement and enjoyment for what they're doing, and the best way to achieve this is to be profitable and sustainable in our business decisions.”

Linda said by farming at two locations in the Mid and Upper North, she has been able to test different business models and latest innovations.

"The land near Jamestown is more marginal than the land near Clare," she said.

"We tend to shift the sheep or cropping operations around to suit the conditions and use a lot of different models to do that."

In 2012 and 2013, Linda travelled around the world as part of a Nuffield Scholarship, looking at real-time decision support tools.

"We were already using some of these tools in making decisions on our property. By having that first-hand experience on our property, I can go out and help other businesses," she said.

As part of the Nuffield Scholarship, Linda travelled around the world four times in 16 months. Her travels took in Asia, Europe, North America and the Middle East. She visited businesses like Facebook and John Deere and said there were incredibly exciting innovations in the pipeline.

Linda has been involved with a number of boards and groups over the years, including many years with the South Australian Grains Industry Trust as a trustee.

"When I was completing my Nuffield Scholarship I cut back on my board involvement, because the Nuffield Scholarship was such a big commitment," she said.

"I'm only prepared to be involved in boards that I think are making a difference at ground level."

One project Eldredge and Associates is working on at the moment is helping set up home-based farm businesses.

"We're finding a lot of rural women in particular are struggling to find off-farm work," she said.

"We're losing retail stores in regional areas to the Internet.

"This training focuses on building brands, logos and how to run a business from home.

"It's about supporting families with off-farm income, so you can be sitting in Clare, Cummins or in the South East, running a business out of your home."

Linda believes there are plenty of opportunities to keep youth on the land.

"It's a mixture of heritage, history and stories of generations past and the opportunities that exist in the future," she said.

"We've seen a couple of generations step away from agriculture but I believe there is a new group of the younger generation stepping back towards it.

"But we need to move away from old models and move into new business models, and a part of that includes having off-farm income.

"I work with a lot of young people looking at production systems and management systems. The cloud is a low cost innovation that will help the next generation on farm, and evidence supports that with these decision support tools profitability can increase by 10-20 per cent per annum"

Linda has big plans for her business, and is scoping the possibility of taking a division of the business global within the next 12 months.

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Paula Thompson

Paula Thompson

is Stock Journal's markets editor


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