Thursday, July 7, 2022

How our top guns fire

The top-performing sheep and beef farmers are running profitable operations. In the February issue, Country-Wide profiled Chris and Laura Hunter of Awamangu, near Balclutha in South Otago. In this issue we profile three more farming families operating at the top of their game. To sum up what makes them all so successful would be difficult, except to say they all possess a similar attitude and mindset. From a practical point of view, four things that really stood out are the importance they put on feeding stock, their pasture management skills, their ability to keep good control of costs, and their knack of always working through the economics before making a decision. 

Kelvin and Rianda Ross.

In the February issue of Country-Wide, rural accountant Jim Johnstone, of Shand Thomson in Balclutha, outlined the key traits his experience has identified as belonging to the top-performing farmers. These included:

  • A tendency to be really positive about the sheep and beef industry
  • They are intuitive
  • They tend to have good networks among other farmers although it isn’t always an organised network
  • They are receptive to new ideas but aren’t the early adopters
  • They have good stockmanship skills
  • Have a focus on growing quality pasture
  • Do the simple things effectively
  • Know the importance of timing
  • They are well-organised and always achieve farm milestones on time
  • Farm expenditure is planned and organised
  • The farm working expense ratio to the gross farm income is rarely out of step with best practice and often hovers around 40% of gross farm revenue.
  • Some look closely at the budget they prepare but they generally just instinctively know
  • The very nature of high performers is they are always looking to do better
  • It is the all-round package rather than something specific.

While interviewing the four farming families, the above key traits shine through. Each farming business varied in strengths and challenges but ultimately the key traits of the operators were similar to the point that it was quite remarkable.

All four families are down-to-earth and, despite the many challenges each farm presented, they all have firm control of their business – it doesn’t control them. This sense of control is possibly helped by their habit of thinking ahead, plus they all have a degree of flexibility built into their respective systems to cope with any unforeseen challenges, especially weather.

The four families run some head of beef and enjoy this aspect but all consider beef an important tool in creating flexibility in times of pressure. Storing lambs is another option.

Feeding stock to optimal levels and pasture management are the top priorities and all possess good stockmanship skills and a love of what they do.

Farm and machinery maintenance is continually occurring and new purchases are kept to a minimum. Working expenses are kept well in check but probably more vital is that the economics of all decisions are worked through. This includes thinking through the flow-on effect – positive and negative – of decisions and the effect any changes will have on the system.

Their success stems from their many skills and their ability to stick to the basics and do them well.

Fertiliser use and animal health are well-managed and essential but kept simple. This could easily be the mantra adopted across the management of each farm.

All are hard working but not for the sake of hard work alone. Efficiencies in time and money are important and work is matched to the demands of season. Systems are organised but kept uncomplicated. There is also a good balance between work, family and friends. 

Each farm is managed to its strengths. Industry trends are assessed on their economic merit but adopted only if they fit with the strengths of the farm and are able to add real value.

All the farmers placed huge importance on reducing debt and although none enjoys paying tax, they all said that if tax wasn’t being paid then money was not being made.

No farm consultants are employed. Two important avenues for accessing information are from talking with other farmers and from having a small pool of trusted and knowledgeable company representatives who all speak from experience rather than quoting from trial results or stating industry best practice. The farm accountant and local vet are the first port of call for professional advice in their respective fields.

All have developed a modest confidence in their own abilities. They take ownership of the decisions they make and back themselves. This is possibly aided by the fact that decisions aren’t normally rushed into; they watch and learn from what others are doing, and the economics of new ideas are assessed. 

They all work in and on their business full time. Wider industry matters are important to them all and they make a point of staying informed. Their frustration at the situation for the country’s sheepmeat and wool industry is strong but focus is kept to within their own respective farm business. 

They all enjoy their respective farms, the business they are in and the lifestyle it provides them with. A change in farming practice away from sheep and beef is not an option for any of them at this time. 

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