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.