Old dogs sharing new tricks
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.