Group finds marketing is text of the day

When Quirindi-based grower group AgVance Farming Pty Ltd plans its next field day they may well include a lesson on sending text messages.

While these growers have been quick to take up the most modern of farming technologies - they took to auto steering like ducks to water, consider controlled-traffic farming the only way to go and have more aerials on their tractor cabs than a radio station - their latest initiative has shown work-worn thumbs are not the daintiest on a mobile telephone keypad and replying to messages has left them bewildered.

The most recent development from this five-year-old group has been to contract a grain marketer, and as a result text messages on their mobile telephones now inform them of the latest prices and tonnage demands. Come mid-morning a few beeps indicates a message from Armidale-based Jack Vivers as to the progress of contracts.

Chairman David Ronald says the initiative met another objective of the group, which was recognition of the key driver of profitability being effective marketing and employment of risk-management skills.

“We"ve all done bits and pieces of our own marketing and it is time-consuming and you are not always aware of all the options,” David explains. “Often we were dealing with the marketer working for the end user, not the grower.”

While there is no compulsion for the 19 farming enterprises in the grower group to use the service, it is designed to keep the power of buying and selling with the grower and it is the grower who makes the final decision on taking up a contract.

“We also had the ability to accumulate tonnage to meet large contracts through our membership. Jack simply lets us know by text, or fax, how much he needs to fill a contract,” adds AgVance Farming director Grayson Gulliver. “Our members produce a quality product and we want to get that straight to the end user.”

A private limited company with all members being shareholders, AgVance Farming was launched in 1999 by 13 farming enterprises on the Liverpool Plains with the aim of “taking its members beyond the conventional and establishing them at the cutting edge of agriculture”. This year, AgVance Farming was named the GRDC NSW Grower Group of the Year.

With members running enterprises ranging in size from 20,000ha down to 400ha (with an average of around 1500ha) the predominant crop is sorghum grown in summer, with wheat and barley as winter crops. Smaller amounts of oilseeds, sunflowers, faba beans and chickpeas are grown as seasons and rotations allow. Most members run cattle on the country not suited to cropping.

The founding members believed that through strong communication, quality advice and a view to the future, their enterprises would reach their full potential, which would then have a flow-on effect in forming a strong farming community.

Today the members meet regularly and communicate and learn through a weekly newsletter, a website, meetings, field days, farm and business tours and affiliations with other groups.

One of the first steps towards meeting the original goals was the employment of a full- time facilitator/agronomist, Peter McKenzie. He has developed an intimate knowledge of each member"s operation and is the key person in communication and marketing.

“This area was well established for the early adoption of new farming techniques but we needed a professional who would always push us towards the next thing,” director and former chairman Ian Carter says.

To meet the demands of different farming enterprises the company has established a tiered membership system offering three levels - from access to information through all levels of communication through to a full agronomic member.

AgVance Farming has just enhanced Peter"s role with the employment of a part-time administration manager to prepare reports and manage the paper trail through a newly opened office in Quirindi.

“In the 1990s an awful lot of people went out of business, and we"ve decided to stay in business we need to have a sharp pencil,” says Mr Ronald. “The result is people will be enthusiastic about farming and living on the Liverpool Plains.”

Currently AgVance Farming is focusing on five areas of development - soil health; marketing; managing variability in the system; the farming business/investment and new technologies.

For more information:
Peter McKenzie, 02 6746 1939 or 0428 474 860, www.agvance.com.au