It starts at the kitchen table

Lately the word ‘conversation’ seems to be popping up in agricultural media on a regular basis. Farmers are being encouraged to engage with strangers at the traffic lights or in a lift to share with them our story as producers of their food. But I think that conversation needs to start at the kitchen table within our own families, especially if we want to develop the next generation of agriculturalists. Writing for Ground Cover for almost 50 of the 100 issues has given me plenty of conversation starters for our meal times – so many, in fact, at times my farmer husband has had to say, “that’s enough about them, let’s talk about me,” or “if you jumped in the ute I’d be able to show the same thing on our farm”.

However, it illustrates the fact that I cannot recall an interview with a grower or a researcher, or even a student for that matter, where I have not learnt something or been greatly enthused about the future for agriculture as result. It is often the opposite to how I have felt about our industry after reading mainstream media.

And it continually shows me opportunities for great careers and lives for our three children if they should choose the same industry as their parents.

We joke that the 13-year-old’s love of the computer screen will one day be the most useful skill in running a farm (particularly with setting up a new tractor) and the 11-year-old’s constant ‘machinery adaptation’ and ‘crop trials’ show an inquiring mind. We are not sure if the nine-year-old’s love of fashion design will find a home in farming, but perhaps her enthusiasm for handling money could lead to great business skills.

If agriculture offers the career of choice, I will share with them my observations, developed from hundreds of interviews, of the common factors I have identified in successful farming businesses:

  • an interest and respect for R&D and science and a willingness to always look for solutions to challenges – these people look for the science to back up or inspire their on-farm decisions;
  • consistent business principles – no chasing rainbows, just running a simple business with good procedures;
  • timing is everything – the best operators schedule crucial farming operations for the optimum windows;
  • decision making – sometimes they are not the right decision, but it is better than making no decision;
  • professional advice – good agronomists, marketers, accountants, bank managers and livestock advisers are worth their weight in gold;
  • non-professional advice – there is also great value in looking over the fence and sharing information within grower networks or just at the pub at week’s end;
  • good health and good family relationships – divorce, illness or family break-up can be more detrimental to a farming business than any drought or commodity slump;
  • encourage the next generation – if you love farming and want to stay in it for a long time, an enthusiastic next generation will help you achieve that goal; and finally
  • an interest in all things new and different and a particular interest in reading about these in Ground Cover.