Poles, or Fence Posts, Apart

Striving for a united farm direction

Dr Ellen Downes is the quintessential multi-tasker. She juggles a medical practice, three children under six years of age, her dairy cattle stud, as well as playing an active role in the family’s 1400ha property near Canowindra, Central West NSW. “Sometimes it is a true juggling act and often it is really hard, but everything we do is so important to achieving our longer term goals, that we just do our best to make it happen”, Ellen said today.

Ellen, and her husband Stuart, have been members of Ag EDGE for 12 years. Ag EDGE, a small not-for-profit group, is comprised of a number of unofficial ‘boards of directors’ which provide a peer review function, delivering practical and professional input into each board member’s business. Each ‘board member’ is actively involved in agriculture in some way and bring their business and personal experience to the table.

“When I first became involved with Ag EDGE I was ‘the girlfriend’ for my now husband, an outsider from a dairy farm on the South Coast. It was a real eye-opener to be part of a conversation about a farm that treated it as a genuine business, which could be managed and planned for in a proactive way. For me, it was like letting a genie out of the bottle. Once we started to think about the business in a strategic way, we were hungry for more”, Ellen said.

After a long-distance relationship and innumerable kilometres, Ellen has made the Canowindra district her permanent home. “Being involved with Ag EDGE on an ongoing basis has been invaluable for our business and our relationship”, Ellen said. “We were coming to the business from different angles and with vastly different agriculture and life experience, Ag EDGE has helped us pick the best of both worlds and combine that into a plan that sets out a future direction for us as a family and from a commercial perspective”.

Ag EDGE meet face-to-face up to four times each year and maintain regular contact in between meetings. Face-to-face meetings are professionally facilitated and each meeting is used to review each member’s business performance or progress towards their goals.

“With so much going on in our lives, it is always a major challenge to get to the Ag EDGE meetings, but it is so beneficial when we make the effort that we know it really is the best use of our time. Ag EDGE makes you pause and reassess where you are up to in your plans. Importantly, it makes us accountable to follow through on what we said at the last board meeting and it always generates lots of fodder for ongoing conversations”, Ellen said today. “We now schedule fortnightly ‘meetings’ with each other so we reconnect with what is going on in the farm now and monitor our progress towards our goals. That may sound a bit formal, but it allows us to have a better sense of what is going on in our lives and business and we generally feel less disjointed given everything we juggle”.

“Personally, I think one of the best things about Ag EDGE is the way it includes the partner in the business, especially if the partner is not out in the paddock everyday physically working on the farm. Ag EDGE provides the space to acknowledge the valuable contribution that wives and partners do make in the business, even if they are bringing a completely different skill set to the table. This is really empowering for everyone – acknowledgement of the partner who may be working off-farm and support for the person who is intimately involved with the operation. It removes those feelings of isolation and allows everyone to contribute. It becomes a real team effort. While in the beginning the concept of Ag EDGE may be a little hard to get your head around, I believe it is an extraordinary opportunity to grow your business and also to grow as a person. It’s a true holistic approach”, Ellen said.

Please follow and like us:

Young Farmers with Strong Foundations

When drive and direction combine

Nell Sullivan joined Ag EDGE when she was just 24 years old. “I had just returned home to work on the farm full-time, so it was a natural step to join Ag EDGE and take a seat at the board table with Dad and Mum. It was a tricky time really as the farm was in transition and we were waiting for a buyer, but it was invaluable to understand the various financial aspects of the business, especially around juggling short-term investment priorities”, Nell said.

Since that time, with the family farm sold, Nell and her husband Lachlan have established their own merino sheep enterprise on 3 700 acres near Molong in Central West NSW. “Ag EDGE has been really useful as we start out on our own. The conversations we have had drilling into the detail about business structures, financing options and enterprise choice have laid a solid foundation for our business. We are especially focussed on developing systems and processes that will make it easier to measure and monitor the performance of our business into the future”, Nell said today.

Ag EDGE, a small not-for-profit group, is comprised of a number of unofficial ‘boards of directors’ which provide a peer review function, delivering practical and professional input into each board member’s business. Each ‘board member’ is actively involved in agriculture in some way and bring their business and personal experience to the table.

Ag EDGE meet face-to-face up to four times each year and maintain regular contact in between meetings. Face-to-face meetings are professionally facilitated and each meeting is used to review each member’s business performance or progress towards their goals.

“I think one of best things about Ag EDGE is that it captures us for two days every three months and makes us sit down, focus on the business and sometimes have some pretty hard conversations. We are so busy on the farm and with our off-farm roles that it is easy for things to fall through the gaps. For us, those quarterly meetings put the brakes on temporarily, allow us to reassess where we are and then charge off again. It certainly keeps us on track, ensures we don’t stray too far from the plan, and gives us time to address any small hiccups in the business”.

Nell believes that, “another huge benefit of Ag EDGE is the confidence it gives us as young farmers growing our own business. We are sure that we have the skills and the drive to build a good business. To have those extra sets of experienced eyes reviewing our plans, and telling us that we are on the right track, it makes it that little bit easier, especially as we are about to take on some pretty large debt. To have those supportive and knowledgeable farmers and business people, telling us to ‘go for it’ makes us feel more confident about the next big steps”.

“I know my past experience has made me a bit biased, but for any other young farmers out there, I say ‘join up and jump in’. If you want to start to build a good business or feel like your business is heading in the direction you want it to, then I recommend you invest the time to make it a reality. Both Lach and I are aiming high and we want to utilise all our physical and knowledge assets in the best way possible. We know Ag EDGE will push us to be the best we can be and to make sure the engine, our business, works as efficiently as possible”.

Please follow and like us:

Husband and Wife Agree on Farm Future!

Building stronger farm families

Looking forward to the future

Dorianne and Charles Coventry run superfine wool merinos, fat lambs and cattle on their 6 300 acre property at Armidale on the NSW Northern Tablelands. Dorianne is from San Francisco with a background in Funds Management, and Charles is a Grain Trader and sixth generation Wool Farmer from the New England. When the Coventrys joined Ag EDGE nine years ago, they expected their business to improve, but little did they know the incredible changes it would bring to their marriage and family.

“We joined Ag EDGE when we were still managing our property remotely from Sydney. We really wanted to understand how our business could improve and we had little idea of how we were performing in relation to the rest of the super-fine wool growing industry, but we got a whole lot more than we bargained for, and that was a good thing”, Dorianne said today.

Ag EDGE, a small not-for-profit group, is comprised of a number of unofficial ‘boards of directors’ which provide a peer review function, delivering practical and professional input into each board member’s business. Each ‘board member’ is actively involved in agriculture in some way and bring their business and personal experience to the table.

“One of the first exercises Charlie and I were asked to do was to sit down and write our goals and vision for the future as a couple and a business. Initially we did this separately and when we then compared notes we were surprised to find that despite good communication between us, there were some important goal that either weren’t getting enough priority, or that we were completely unaware of. That exercise sparked some interesting and important conversations and we started experiencing benefits almost immediately”, Mrs Coventry said. “Ag EGDE has helped us to clearly and objectively identify what we hope to achieve in life, family and business, and to work together in a unified way. The board structure has been incredibly valuable to support us through those conversations, to provide ideas and solutions, to flag what may be unachievable at any point, or to make us stretch even further”.

Ag EDGE meet face-to-face up to four times each year and maintain regular contact in between meetings. Face-to-face meetings are professionally facilitated and each meeting is used to review each member’s business performance or progress towards their goals.

“Without doubt Ag EDGE has been good for our business. You can’t beat having progressive and like-minded people visit your farm and share their expertise based on their own business and life experience. They understand you and they understand your business, so the information they share is practical and realistic and the best bit, they truly have your best interests at heart with no hidden agendas. They are not trying to sell you anything and they don’t benefit in any way other than seeing you succeed”, Dorianne said.

“Because of Ag EDGE, we have become increasingly nimble to make the most of every opportunity as it comes to us. A quick ‘go’ or ‘no go’ conversation between us and we know whether it fits into our overall plan. In fact, Ag EDGE has allowed us to tick off all of our ten year goals within the first five years of membership. That doesn’t mean we get to stop there though. We updated our goals again and we are working hard towards new ones.  It has made us a real team”.

“I am the first to admit that it is always a challenge to get to the Ag EDGE meetings when you are juggling a young family, off-farm work and the farm, but I am always so pleased that I make the effort. The conversations around the Board table make us accountable for our planning, they keep us focussed on our goals and there are plenty of laughs too. The benefit we get from investing that time in ourselves and our business is genuinely money in the bank”, Dorianne said.

Please follow and like us:

Confidence for Young Farmers

Old dogs sharing new tricks

children on horseback
Enjoying some quality time with the children

Oliver and Kas Wythes run a 1 786 hectare mixed farming operation near Canowindra in Central West NSW. Oliver is the fourth generation to be based in the Canowindra region and Kas is from a farming family near Walcha. “I think young farmers today have a completely different range of business pressures and perhaps, different expectations about the role the farm has in our modern lives”, Kas said. “Not only do we work full-time on the farm, but most farming families I know also juggle off-farm work as well”.

Kas and Oliver joined Oliver’s father around the Ag EDGE board table in 2004 to continue the business’ growth and to clarify their future in the family farming operation and how that fitted with the extended family.

Succession planning conversations on a family farm can be fraught with emotion and tension. Ag EDGE has helped the Wythes family commence these important conversations.

Ag EDGE, a small not-for-profit group, is comprised of a number of unofficial ‘boards of directors’ which provide a peer review function, delivering practical and professional input into each board member’s business. Each ‘board member’ is actively involved in agriculture in some way and bring their business and personal experience to the table.

“Ag EDGE, first and foremost, has really helped us with the strategic management decisions on the farm. We now take a much longer term view about the farm rather than just from season to season. The group has also helped us understand the impact of different business decisions and how that can flow-on to other aspects of the operation”, Kas said.

Ag EDGE meet face-to-face up to four times each year and maintain regular contact in between meetings. Face-to-face meetings are professionally facilitated and each meeting is used to review each member’s business performance or progress towards their goals.

“Ag EDGE is like a brains trust that we can tap into whenever we need to. Many of the people around the board table have had similar experiences to us when they were starting their farming careers, and to be able to draw on their knowledge of what worked and what didn’t work has saved us a lot of time, money and heartache. We are now much more confident in our decision-making and we feel that we are making better, and more considered, decisions because we have had all this external and independent input from people who are not directly involved with the farm”, Kas said. “I think this input is even more important to young farmers who may be feeling isolated, as the information comes from an experienced and trusted source. Sometimes it is just useful to throw ideas around with someone who understands the problem, but is not emotionally tied to it”.

Succession planning conversations continue at the Wythes’ property. “Ag EDGE has really highlighted to us all that good communication and information sharing is the key to a successful business and a happier family. I am the first to admit that it is not always easy as the issue is so important to all of us, but we now don’t avoid those conversations and approach them with a positive outcome in mind”, Kas said.

Please follow and like us:

Making Rough Conversations Smooth

Business growth through honest conversation

A family gathering
The Mott clan enjoy some down time.

Genevieve and David Mott had been farming 8 000 acres west of Wagga Wagga for over 20 years before they joined Ag EDGE. “We had a good business, but we felt that we just weren’t making enough profit”, Genevieve said today. “Everybody likes to think they are good farmers and good business people, but we couldn’t really pinpoint the weak spots in our business, and that was a bit discomforting”.

Ag EDGE, a small not-for-profit group, is comprised of a number of unofficial ‘boards of directors’ which provide a peer review function, delivering practical and professional input into each board member’s business. Each ‘board member’ is actively involved in agriculture in some way and bring their business and personal experience to the table.

“Joining AG EDGE gave us confidence to think outside the square in our business. Personally, it gave me the opportunity, and the confidence, to ask the tough questions about why we did what we did in our business. At that time, I was not actively involved in the daily management and planning of the farm and sometimes that made me feel like I really didn’t have a handle on where we were heading”, Genevieve said. “You get so busy in the day-to-day work and life, that it is easy for those hard conversations to be pushed to one side. The culture and experience around the Ag EDGE Board table makes it possible to have frank, and sometimes difficult conversations, because everyone is there to support you through the process”.

Ag EDGE meet face-to-face up to four times each year and maintain regular contact in between meetings. Face-to-face meetings are professionally facilitated and each meeting is used to review each member’s business performance or progress towards their goals.

“Ag EDGE helps break the habits we create for ourselves and break out of the traditional roles we may have fallen into. Ag EDGE gives me a voice at the table and I feel that after each board meeting, everyone in the business develops a far better understanding of what needs to change to build a more successful enterprise. Yes, some of those conversations are fairly stressful, but with the support of our board we are able to overcome some of the emotional impasses and address the issues in a respectful and useful way”, Genevieve said.

The Motts grew the business for a further ten years and have since sold the farm. They are still actively involved in Ag EDGE and various farming and family enterprises. “I think that Ag EDGE made a really positive difference in our business and the way we communicate about what is important to us on both a personal and business level. The support around that table was immensely important to us to help us move on with the next exciting phase of our life, as well as support our next generation of farmers”, Mrs Mott said today.

Please follow and like us:

Focussing on the Future

When fresh eyes deliver business benefits

Vicki Stevens - ag edge member
Vicki Stevens

Battling one of the worst droughts in memory may not be the usual circumstances for opening up your business and your lives to a group of strangers, but this courage and initiative has reaped benefits for Vicki and Mike Stevens and their 3500 acre mixed farm business south of Wagga Wagga.

“We were in the middle of a shocking drought and were just hanging in there. We knew we had to take some big steps to think about our business in a different way if we were to have a long-term future in farming”, Vicki said.

Eight years ago, on a recommendation from friends, the Stevens joined the not-for-profit group Ag EDGE. Ag EDGE is comprised of a number of unofficial ‘boards of directors’ which provide a peer review function, delivering practical and professional input into each board member’s business.

“In the beginning, our Board was quite diverse and we weren’t quite sure how our business experience would relate. We soon realized that, even though there were large differences in the nature and scale of what we did, we were all there with the same desire to make a positive change in our business and we were all operating businesses. Full stop. The best thing was that everyone viewed our business problems and issues with completely fresh eyes, which made us reassess our weaknesses, as well as come up with different solutions”, she said.

Ag EDGE meet face-to-face up to four times each year and maintain regular contact in between meetings. Face-to-face meetings are professionally facilitated and each meeting is used to review each member’s business performance or progress towards their goals.

“Joining Ag EDGE refocussed us on the business. It made us really look at the way we planned the business and the goals that we wanted to achieve in the longer-term. None of these discussions are easy, but having those supportive people around the table really made us clarify what we wanted to do, and importantly, it made us accountable to follow through”, Mrs Stevens said today.

Like many other farming families, the Stevens were in the early stages of succession planning discussions when they joined Ag EDGE. “We felt we already had good, open lines of communication in our family, and the skills and knowledge around our Ag EDGE board table really built on that. We could draw on other members’ experience in this area and understand what not to do as we worked our way through the process. To have those types of highly sensitive and emotional discussions in a neutral and totally confidential forum, was invaluable”, Vicki said today.

The Stevens are now towards the end of their succession planning journey with the next generation preparing to take up the business reins.

They will be leaving Ag EDGE this year. Saying goodbye to her Ag EDGE Board Vicki commented that, “the Board members we have been involved with for the past eight years have been a constant source of inspiration. They have motivated us to drive our core business and have always encouraged us to look outside the square for development opportunities on all levels. Our vision and goals that seemed like pure fantasy all those years ago have begun to fall in place with our business, and we are taking a new and exciting direction”.

Positive outcomes from stepping outside the comfort zone and sharing insight and experience.

Ag EDGE member
Vicki Stevens and son Andrew
Please follow and like us: