Plan carefully for secure future

Plan from the outside in, not from the inside out, to secure the future of your farming business, Australian agribusiness consultant Rob Napier told the Sentry conference.

Volatility had become the third certainty of life, along with death and taxes. Farmers needed to be nimble, think more broadly and be able to adapt to put themselves in a position to grab opportunities.

“We should not be too farmer-centric,” he warned. There was a risk that traditional definitions of farmers’ roles might limit the ability to integrate and get involved with other industries.

“We must do more with less, and we can make it very exciting for the younger generation if we go about it in the right way. If we get it right, there’s a lot of fun to be had,” he said. “There needs to be a process whereby you sit down very regularly and look at potential changes that might happen.”

Apart from the familiar food price and input cost changes, these could include market shocks from the effects of food scares or terrorism. Small and large businesses may be better positioned to withstand these than those in the middle, he warned.

“You need members of the team and family who are always looking for the next opportunity.”

Leading farmers responded in a particular way to current challenges in markets, technology, management, policy, the environment and the consumer and community.

As well as planning from the outside in, they:

• Have written individual, family and business plans

• Plan to benefit from providing environmental services

• Seek and evaluate new technology

• Are active in customer-driven co-ordinated value chains

• Work together with like-minded people

• Take on new management models

• Look for opportunities to add (as well as expand) business

• Achieve excellence in people development, management and succession planning

Inheritance and succession planning have been completed on Mr Napier’s own family farm in New South Wales, just five minutes from a town with a population of 40,000. As well as rearing beef cattle, the farm has developed a holiday business where “cash-rich, time-poor Sydney executives” delight in paying to stay in former sheep shearer accommodation. Solar panels and a borehole reduces risk and the purchase of a water licence has secured the possibility of bottling water in future.

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