Clear plan vital for farm businesses

Clear plan vital for farm businesses

Discussing farm business management was RSM Australia partner and director Jo Gilbert (left), farmers Erin Green, Yuna and Hayley Wandel, Scaddan and BJW Agribusiness consultant Brent Searle.

Discussing farm business management was RSM Australia partner and director Jo Gilbert (left), farmers Erin Green, Yuna and Hayley Wandel, Scaddan and BJW Agribusiness consultant Brent Searle.


"Our plan is very simple - profitability, people &production, with long & short-term objectives & actions."


STRUCTURE, having a clear business plan and outsourcing expertise are three key ways to improving the management - and the productivity and profitability - of your farm business.

Farmers Erin Green, Yuna and Hayley Wandel, Scaddan, joined BJW Agribusiness consultant Brent Searle on a panel at the Rural Edge Inspire Summit, Burswood, last month when they discussed ways of transforming your farm business, facilitated by RSM Australia partner and director Jo Gilbert.

Ms Green shared how she and husband Brady have implemented structure into their business, which has made them more accountable, organised and efficient to run their 8800 hectare cropping enterprise.

As one family unit, decision making would often leave them at a crossroads and Ms Green would often have a different perspective to her husband.

In undertaking the Rabobank Executive Development Program in 2019, she made a five-year plan for her business based on the ethos "we keep doing what we're doing, but do it better".

"At the end of this five-year plan we would have the opportunity to decide what we would want to do, where we'd want to be and we would have provided a good foundation for our daughters to decide what they want to do," Ms Green said.

"Our plan is very simple - profitability, people and production, with long and short-term objectives and actions."

They've also had a machinery replacement schedule in place for the past 10 years and have a grain marketing strategy which "takes the emotion out of things".

The plan also makes the Greens schedule their time to work together, ensuring accountability.

As part of her plan Ms Green has an annual checklist which is structured into three columns (aims) of profitability, people and production, with a fourth column for key targets/KPIs.

"I have the weeks of the year and what should happen in those various weeks," she said.

It is colour coded to reflect the time of year and urgency - red is stop, yellow building up and green is the busy time.

It also differentiates responsibilities between the couple and their shared duties.

It's double-sided, with six months each side and is always on Ms Green's desk to refer to.

"This keeps me and Brady doing the right thing, we know what needs to be done when and it keeps us accountable," she said.

Outsourcing expertise was a game changer for Ms Wandel's business.

When her fourth child was born, she and husband Mark found themselves overwhelmed, also being one family unit.

"We got to a crossroads and were at capacity - Mark said his role was better spent in the paddock and that's what he enjoyed doing," Ms Wandel said.

"We made decisions all the time but couldn't act on them all, we had to prioritise and we were just limited in our capacity to execute our decisions and didn't feel like everything was followed through in the way we wanted."

They hired Natahna Stone in 2017 and her role has evolved as she's embraced new tasks and responsibilities.

Now the farm business development officer, Ms Stone duties include office work, record-keeping, planning, mapping, liaising with staff, human resource management, occupational health and safety, event planning such as tour groups, writing meeting agendas, as well as driving a tractor at harvest.

"Now we are able to prioritise decisions and have accountability for them and follow up the actions from those decisions with all the right systems in place," Ms Wandel said.

"It has taken a long time to get the right systems in place, a lot of trial and error, but now we have time to formulate them and the information being gathered is accessible much more quickly now.

"Natahna and I work quite closely in the office and I feel like I have found an equal in her and we have often discussed how alike we are and think the same on quite a few issues.

"It is really rewarding to work together and see what that collaboration achieves."

Now with five children and six full-time staff, life for the Wandels has remained very busy, but managing their 10,500ha farm business has become much more efficient and organised.

Outsourcing expertise has also come at a high level of decision making for both the Greens and Wandels in the form of an advisory board.

An advisory board for the Green's business was formed in 2010 and they meet twice a year.

"It is a formal way of outsourcing at a relatively low cost and we have a great group for talking over things that unexpectedly happen or opportunities that arise, such as when a new staff member is starting we will talk about what should go in the package, or if there's extra rainfall forecast for the next four weeks, should we put Flexi-N on or just sit tight," she said.

The Wandels are in the process of forming an advisory board.

They both suggested recruiting people that you trust, value the opinions of and bring an expertise that is different to yourself and business partner/s, including at least one third party.

In terms of the decision making process, Mr Searle, of BJW Agribusiness, said there were three types of decisions; good decisions, bad decisions and no decision.

"No decision is the worst place to be," Mr Searle said.

"You must ask yourself what is the right decision here, because everything is always a compromise - capital and time are always limiting."

Understanding yourself and business partners, particularly differences in personalities, risk appetite and make decisions is also crucial.

"Once you've made the decision, then you come to the actions and farmers are great action people," he said.

Mr Searle referred to a "feedback loop", which involves reviewing and analysing the decision and what went right and wrong.

"The good decision makers are doing those things anyway," he said.

"The one thing I caution people on is over analysis otherwise you won't make the decision."


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