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Business skills a must for farmers

Promising outlook makes business skills a must for farmers

Rabobank is expecting continued strong interest in its Executive Development Program (EDP) for primary producers this year, as farmers prepare to take advantage of the favourable market conditions being seen in 2008.

Rabobank’s head of rural banking for New Zealand and Australia, Neil Dobbin said that in the competitive and volatile global environment that producers operate in, high-level management skills to drive continuous business evolution are a necessity.

“Rabobank believes that New Zealand and Australian producers are strategically well placed to meet global food demand, which is currently well in excess of supply. The EDP is a forum for our farm leaders to prepare for the opportunities that this promising time for agriculture holds,” Mr Dobbin said.

The EDP, a business management program designed to further enhance the skills of Australasia’s leading agricultural producers, is about making good long term decisions for your business, Mr Dobbin said.

Good managers are still searching to improve their skills and to mix with like-minded people, he added. “The fact that they seek out these development opportunities is what makes them successful.”

Heath Wilkins, managing director and partner of Birdhurst Ltd, a family horticulture unit situated in Motueka, New Zealand, was one 36 leading primary producers from around New Zealand and Australia who graduated from the EDP in 2007.

Mr Wilkins says that the course provided him with the first step towards formal training that is often overlooked in family businesses. He says that the EDP took him out of his comfort zone, allowed him to benchmark his business amongst his peers, network, share ideas and realise new opportunities.

“The course really reiterated that we were on the right track, having changed the direction of our business about a year before doing the course from focusing on commodities to trying to get out of that trap and become a niche player.

“A key take-away was that when strategising, you need to look five to seven years ahead. Rather than spending all your time and energy getting through the day to day, you need to look forward to how your business will operate in an increasingly challenging and competitive environment,” Mr Wilkins said.

When Mr Wilkins began the EDP, he said the philosophy of his company had been ‘do more and you will make more’, however Mr Wilkins says the course made him realise that they were stretching themselves too thin.

“We now focus on doing what will take us into the future, rather than taking too much on and substituting volume for quality. We strive for a premium product rather than just a commodity line that importers could get more cheaply else where - we are now working hard towards offering something unique and we are achieving this by slowing down, taking a breath, re-strategizing and moving away from parts of the business that won’t be around in five years time,” Mr Wilkins said.

Today, farming really has become a professional business, you have to be ahead of the eight ball and the EDP provides you with the kind of perspective you need to identify new opportunities and asses what path you’re on, Mr Wilkins said. “In the old days you could survive being average in agribusiness, now only the top 10 per cent will survive in my industry, under the current environment,” he said.

Focusing on what they do better has allowed the businesses employees to leave work feeling more satisfied, Mr Wilkins says, as they aren’t worrying about all the tasks that they haven’t done or can’t physically do because they are focusing on fewer things at a higher level, not everything all at once. “The EDP has certainly meant that our employees work along side me more and as a team we’ve been able to work on the really important jobs on a day to day level,” he said.

Mr Wilkins says that since completing the course the company has established a board of directors, including two non-family directors, to make decisions about the business. “We were making decisions on the back of a ute, that’s fine when everything is going well but not when things are tight and the goalposts keep moving closer together.”

Another ongoing benefit of the course is the network of innovative peers that opens up, Mr Wilkins says, adding that he is in regular contact with other participants. “The course really fosters the sharing of experiences and that is particularly valuable in this industry,” Mr Wilkins said.

“I would recommend the course to people who want to check themselves against their peers, gain the knowledge and skills needed to analyse what path their business is on and who want to gain a clearer understanding of where they want it to be in the medium and long-term future.”

Run in two modules held during a twelve month period, the EDP covers topics including marketing, human resource management, best practice in farm business management, financial management, business strategy, negotiation, presentation and communication, succession planning and leadership.

Applications for the EDP are now open and close on 25 April. The first module runs from 17 to 22 August in Sydney. For more information on the 2008-2009 Executive Development Program or Rabobank’s Farm Managers Program designed for the next generation of farm owners, please contact Kobie Tesoriero, Business Programs Manager on: + 61 2 8115 2241, email, or contact your local Rabobank rural manager.

Rabobank Australia & New Zealand is a part of the international Rabobank Group, the world’s
leading specialist in food and agribusiness banking. Rabobank has more than 100 years’
experience providing customised banking and finance solutions to businesses involved in all
aspects of food and agribusiness. Rabobank has a AAA credit rating and is rated one of the
world’s safest bank by Global Finance magazine. Rabobank operates in 42 countries,
servicing the needs of more than nine million clients worldwide through a network of more
than 1500 offices and branches. Rabobank Australia & New Zealand is one of Australasia’s
leading rural lenders and a significant provider of business and corporate banking and
financial services to the region’s food and agribusiness sector. The bank has 78 branches
throughout Australasia.


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