Seated at the table of knowledge
GroundCover™ Issue: 123 | Author: Cate Rocchi and Erin Green
The crucial role of partners in the management of a modern grain enterprise was clearly evident at the sell-out Partners In Grain WA INSPIRE Summit 2016 in April
About 130 women farmers from across Western Australia’s wheatbelt improved their business knowledge, networked and ramped up their communication skills at the Partners in Grain (PinG) WA INSPIRE Summit 2016 in April.
Four-wheel drives splattered in red dirt lined a suburban Perth park. Women from as far north as Binnu, to Albany in the south and Esperance in the south-east had cleared their schedules and driven long distances for the two-day conference, which was packed with practical tips and business advice.
Rooms were buzzing as people shared skills, learned from each other’s mistakes and successes, and recognised their roles in the future prosperity of their agribusinesses.
At the conference, PinG’s WA chair Nicole Batten announced Dandaragan grower Bronwyn Fox would replace her as the state chair (a role she has held for four years). Mrs Batten, from Yuna, near Geraldton, has been appointed to lead PinG nationally.
Mrs Batten said communication is a vital issue for growers, noting also that generations Y and X communicated differently to the baby boomer generation.
Nonetheless, the need for clarity in communication remains unchanged and was particularly highlighted by panellists presenting on farm succession. Two speakers moved many in the audience to tears as they discussed harrowing stories of family conflict because of the lack of straightforward succession plans. Others learned from the mistakes of misguided presumptions and everyone was encouraged to enter into clear legal agreements from the outset of farming family partnerships.
The big picture
Todd Charteris, Rabobank’s national manager for country banking, flew into Perth from Sydney to address the audience on the global future of agriculture and the opportunities for Australian growers.
He said that in terms of grain infrastructure, he believed many of Australia’s emerging competitors were still behind Australia. He recently joined a North American-led trip to Brazil, which while viewed as a competitor, has a long way to go, from an infrastructure perspective: “But we can’t take that for granted because Brazil will get that right,” he said.
Mr Charteris said the Black Sea region also had difficulty getting grain to market.
In terms of the development and adoption of technology, he said that understanding where the opportunities lay needed partnerships. He said that it is Rabobank’s approach to look at ways to partner with others to help customers adapt (to technology). “It’s about collaboration,” he said.
He said, with regard to industry skills, that the demand from agriculture still outweighed the number of graduates from university courses in agriculture.
One of the most popular speakers was Shannah Kennedy, a Melbourne-based business and life coach, who encouraged women to take care of themselves.
Speaking from her own experiences, Ms Kennedy said that developing business skills is important, but just as important is to remember that people are one of the greatest assets of a farm business: “To ensure we can be as productive as possible in our business and for our families, we need to invest time in looking after ourselves physically, mentally and emotionally.”
Ms Kennedy suggested looking at a day as 72 20-minute blocks: “How could it not be possible to put aside just one of those blocks each day, for doing something just for you, to make you a healthier, happier person?” she asked.
Erin Gorter, a grower and director of agVivo Events, was a panellist in the boards and governance session. She is a director of Meat and Livestock Australia and encouraged women to be proactive. As an example, she said that prior to making some important board decisions recently, she organised tours of some abattoirs to make sure her decisions were better informed.
Natalie Bowman, from Grass Patch, WA, spoke about her experiences with a farm advisory board and the benefits gained, including developing a system that enabled her family business to conduct regular, focused meetings through the year with the input of experts.
Laura Grubb, a recent Murdoch University animal science graduate and Angus Youth Beef Australia scholar, gave a speech about how to attract younger people to the many varied careers available in agriculture.
Ms Grubb noted that farming is a niche that not everyone is able to or interested in, but that agriculture is much more than farming: “To attract youth into this industry we need to show the other exciting aspects of agriculture: the science, the technology, finance and business management; and being part of a global market that is needed to feed future populations. Give youth a seat at the table and let them be involved.”
Cascade-based Tara Vermeersch presented valuable information on industrial relations and employment, with a farming focus.
Setting the WA INSPIRE Summit 2016 apart from other professional gatherings was the emphasis on grower-to-grower learning, with six concurrent sessions each led by two growers who shared their on-farm business experiences and skills. To facilitate this, the event was capped at 130 growers and only open to growers, speakers and sponsors.
Mrs Batten said the program had been carefully constructed based on feedback from the 70 GRDC-supported workshops that PinG has run in WA in the past few years. The workshops are open to all partners of the farm business and have been delivered to more than 800 growers. The feedback from these growers led to the development of the summit.
Rather than focusing on base-level skills, the program was targeted at women who are already knowledgeable in their current farm business roles. The majority of participants at the WA INSPIRE Summit 2016 had already attended at least one of the GRDC workshops and were looking to further develop their skills, capacity and confidence.
Pre-event benchmarking revealed participants work in a wide variety of roles within their farm business including office management, strategic decision-making, financial management, budgeting, staff recruitment, farm safety, grain marketing, purchasing capital, catering and managing family.
Forty-eight per cent surveyed are also employed off-farm, 80 per cent have positions with volunteer organisations and 80 per cent are members of grower groups. Just under half had a strategic plan and close to two-thirds have a succession plan, although only half of these are written, with the remainder verbal.
Mrs Batten said everyone at the event was a vital member of their business and community, and the global grains sector.
“We are not just small business operators, we are part of the world economy and the summit aimed to grow the future potential of WA grain growers,” she said.
“Women play a vital role in the management of farm businesses and this conference supports their learning and therefore facilitates the growth of the industry.”
Feedback from participants, speakers and sponsors has been overwhelmingly positive, with all asking for this to become either an annual or biannual event.
The main sponsors of the INSPIRE Summit 2016 were Rabobank, the GRDC, Planfarm, RSM and the Department of Agriculture and Food, WA.
GRDC Project Code PIG00010
Region Overseas, West