Celebrating 20 years of educating leaders in agriculture

2019 marks the 20th year of Rabobank’s Business Management Programs, with over 1200 of Australia and New Zealand’s most progressive farmers graduating from the programs over the past two decades.

Developed specifically for primary producers looking to take their business to the next level, the Executive Development Program (EDP) caters for experienced business owners or senior managers, while the Farm Managers Program (FMP) has been developed for younger farmers looking to enhance their management capabilities.

Applications for the 2019 intake for both programs are now open.

Rabobank Australia CEO Peter Knoblanche said in the 20 years the programs had been running, it was perhaps “more important now, than ever, for farming businesses to invest in their ‘human capital’”.

“While it is a good time to be in agriculture, with opportunities continually opening up with improved market access and increased investment in the sector, there are also many mounting pressures,” Mr Knoblanche said. “These include climate challenges presented by drought and other recent weather events and natural disasters. And from a macro level, there are signs the global economy is starting to decelerate – particularly in China – which could have significant flow-on effects on the Australian ag sector.

“While it is impossible to future-proof farming businesses from extreme weather events such as the devastating floods in north-west Queensland, many external risks can be managed if not mitigated through strategic long-term planning – with the programs covering topics such as financial and risk management, strategies for growth, negotiation, leadership, communication and innovation.”

Mr Knoblanche said both programs – which have been likened to mini-MBAs – were highly interactive and had significant emphasis on the direct application of the learnings back into the business. “And being residential programs, the participants have the opportunity to build a strong network of likeminded farmers from across Australia and New Zealand,” he said.

This year, the Farm Managers Program will be held in Christchurch, New Zealand from June 23 to 28, with the program including a visit to one of the region’s leading farm businesses.

The Executive Development Program, which runs as two modules (a year apart) will be held at the Macquarie Graduate School of Management in Sydney. The first module will run from August 25 to 30, with the second scheduled from July 19 to 24, 2020.

Applications for the FMP close on Friday, March 29 and the EDP on Thursday, April 26. Futher information and applications can be found at https://www.rabobank.com.au/agribusiness/business-management-programs/

Business education program “pivotal” to recent expansion of ‘go-ahead’ cropping and sheep enterprise

Evan Hall, together with his wife Wendy, graduated from Rabobank’s Executive Development Program in 2018, describing the program as “pivotal” to their post-program business activities and recent farm expansion.

The Halls, along with Wendy’s parents and sister and brother-in-law, run an extensive broadacre cropping and merino sheep enterprise in the great southern area of Western Australia.

Since attending the program, Mr Hall said the family business, Kunmallup Pastoral Co, had expanded from 6000 hectares to 8200 hectares. With a 4000-hectare cropping program consisting of canola, wheat, barley, oats and hay, the business also runs 8500 merino ewes and a commercial hay-contracting business.

After completing the first module of the Executive Development Program in 2017, Mr Hall said they were “literally sitting in the airport departure lounge, when a business opportunity came across our table”.

Evan with his wife Wendy and his daughter Pippa

With their learnings from the first module of the program giving them the “business confidence” and aiding in “the decision-making process”, Kunmallup Pastoral Co made the call to expand the operation.

“And in a week, we had put in an offer on the (new) farm,” Mr Hall said. “The program was pivotal in our business and the expansion, as it was a big bite to take in one go.

“We realised we were capable of a lot more and the program helped us build financial literacy and business skills – as well as strategic planning – by creating goals that are realistic and achievable.”

Attending the Executive Development Program with Mrs Hall’s sister and brother-in-law, also partners in the family business, Mr Hall said they all “came back with the same energy and ready to take on anything”.

“Doing it together, and in a place that is conducive to thinking, and the right kind of thinking where you challenge your thoughts, was invaluable,” he said. “During the day, our thoughts would be triggered by something that was said and we could then talk it through in the breaks or at night, and it meant we were in the same headspace.”

The program also included sessions on communication, he said, “and we were able to sit down with the presenter after the session and go through our personalities. Needless to say, we came to a lot of self-realisations around our strengths and weaknesses and also how to improve our communication with staff.

“In the whole program there was nothing that wasn’t motivating and really useful to the business,” he said.

“The networks we formed with the other farmers on the course was invaluable, with us all being a sounding board for each other’s ideas. So much was learnt from the group and that can’t be understated.”

Program helps fifth generation grazier transition to the next level of farm management

Fifth-generation cattle producer Ruth Corrigan completed Rabobank’s Farm Managers Program last year as a means of taking “the next step to transition into higher-level management” within her family business Rennylea Angus.

Managing two of the family’s seven properties in the Murray Valley near Bowna, in the New South Wales Riverina, Ms Corrigan is responsible for the day-to-day management of the 1500-head cow-breeding herd. And, since undertaking the Farm Managers Program, she is taking on greater management responsibility as the business transitions from her parents to the 31-year-old farmer and one of her brothers.

For Ms Corrigan, the program’s sessions on business planning particularly resonated. “A few of the speakers touched on the importance of having a business plan, but we then had a session where we started writing our own plans, which I have worked on since I got home and continue to revisit,” she says.

This business plan has formed the basis of Ms Corrigan’s Farm Managers Program management project – a task completed by the course participants on returning home to put into practice the skills, tools and ideas from the program. “Without the program I would have never written one (business plan) down,” she admits.

Ruth Corrigan

“Writing a business plan has got me thinking strategically about where we want to go, and how we can transition my brother and I into the business from our parents. By giving me a clear plan for the next five years, it has also helped with some of the day-to-day management decisions, but also the bigger-picture stuff I am keen to action.

“For example, we are looking at changing the way we collect and record data within the business as we move from a paper-based system to one that is electronic. And the business plan gives you that accountability and help with what needs to be done to make it happen.”

Indeed, the high standard of Ms Corrigan’s business plan has earned her a place as a finalist for the Farm Managers Program management project prize for 2018 graduates, which will see her travel to Christchurch, New Zealand, in June, to present her project to this year’s program participants.

The impending trip has Ms Corrigan looking forward to catching up with fellow finalists from her course. “The other great thing about the program was meeting lots of people and talking to other young famers. It opens up a completely new network, outside from your local area or industry,” she says.

But perhaps more importantly, she says, undertaking the program “gives you that time away from the day-to-day on-farm management, to work on all your business skills and the important things that you don’t have time for, or don’t make time for.”

Rabobank Australia

Rabobank Australia

Rabobank Australia is part of the world’s leading food and agribusiness specialist bank, Rabobank.

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