Farm 1314, Whitton. NSW 2705
By definition control means "to have the power of directing or restraining - to be in charge of". That is what farming in the 90s is all about.
The Scope of Production and Marketing
There are so many variables in agriculture which are out of human control (for example, fire, flood and famine) that we must make the most of potential opportunities that we can control.
At the end of a decade in farming, it occurred to me that I really was like a "cork in a bath tub" in that I had little or no control over my financial destiny because the commodities that I farmed at the time were marketed on my behalf by other people, many of whom I did not even know.
At the time of sowing there was usually no dollar ($) guarantee and, if there was, it was not significant enough to warrant the risk-taking in terms of production.
Was this smart business? The answer was obviously NO.
In order to take control, I have had to diversify my enterprises. In so doing I have had to invest in more capital equipment which has served to spread my risk base.
I began seeking crops that were higher in risk in terms of input, both financial and physical. Because of these very factors, I was guaranteed good financial gain if sound management practices were adhered to and, of course, if seasonal conditions played a part.
Keeping abreast of what is happening in your line of farming is a must and the Department of Agriculture journals, resellers, representatives and other agricultural professionals can be invaluable in searching niche markets. And, of course, there is no substitute for frequenting the actual market place, whether that be vegetables or wool - this is an understatement.
There is no point hounding buyers to take product if their demands cannot be met. Price is not always the highest consideration. Quality, quantity and consistency of supply are equal in consideration to price and it is my experience that if these factors are able to be achieved, absolutely any agricultural product can be marketed and will invariably command a premium price. Once a good working relationship is established with a buyer, contracts are easier to enter into with more knowledge of any pending pitfalls, such as payment schedules.
In order to achieve the best level of production to meet my contracts, I employ a crop monitor to check vegetable crops from soil testing to harvest. This enables me to have use of some IPM (Integrated Pest Management) systems and nutrient testing of plant tissues to give me a state of health report on my crops. With two visits per week I have up-to-date reports and anything urgent is usually highlighted by a phone call. Above all, this gives me peace of mind.
The cost of guaranteeing product is that you will spend many hours on the phone and in "people" contact and less time at the wheel of a tractor. However, you must never lose sight of what is happening in the field.
I have a strong belief that you are only as good as the people you employ and I am fortunate to have total trust in my farm staff, not only for their ability but also for their efficiency. Of course, I have strong family encouragement and support.
To be in control you must have a determination, a vision and a mind absolutely set to succeed. It does not matter what business you are in.
Being organised is absolutely paramount or you are like a 'ship without a rudder'. Organisation embraces many factors:
• delegation and responsibility of duties
• efficient use of time
• timeliness of operations
• efficient and well maintained equipment
• correct rotation of crops with a whole farm overview
• financially organised, for obvious reasons
It is essential to have a pleasant work environment to implement the above.
When we talk about taking control the bottom line has to be on the positive side of the ledger and in order to do this we must develop negotiating skills for not only selling our product but also for purchasing our inputs. I am a strong believer that everything is negotiable. This includes
• initial product price
• interest rate
• container size bag - bulk
• month of document
• who pays freight
and any other variables which may arise that impact on price.
An important factor of staying in control is to know your personal limitations and at all times you need to know where your finances are - either below, above or on budget prediction. I have very close contact with my banker and my accountant and I also pay an independent consultant to give me analysed constructive criticism that I may use to build on.
A decade ago I would not have believed that income from rice, wheat and sheep would have been complemented by popcorn, processing tomatoes, rockmelon, onions, faba beans, hybrid maize, hybrid vegetable seed production, winter cereal seed production - all still within the confines of the same boundary of 344 ha (850 acres) of irrigation.
Where to from here? This is a question I am going to have to address in the near future and I believe it will take the form of:
• leasing more land to give a wider rotation and more efficient use of equipment;
• permanent horticulture of some description;
• micro/drip irrigation leading to greater crop intensity with greater emphasis on quality.
The following are the points I wish to emphasise:
• strategic approach to achieve
• realistic goals with a clear vision
• sell to grow not grow to sell
• prepare for each day with missionary zeal!