Kiwi farmer brings home prestigious Australian business management award

Jonny and Michelle Elder.

New Zealand sheep and beef farmer Jonny Elder has taken out the 2017 Rabobank Business Development Prize, a trans-Tasman business management award for up-and-coming farmers.

Selected from a group of New Zealand and Australia’s most progressive young farmers, graduates of the 2016 Rabobank Farm Managers Programme (FMP),  Jonny Elder from Northern Southland, was recognised for his management project – which demonstrated how he had utilised the learnings from the program to create and implement a business plan to maximise the potential of his farm. Designed for emerging farmers, the FMP focuses on the development of business management skills, with an emphasis on strategic planning, leadership and self-awareness.

Together with his wife Michelle, Elder operates a 460ha sheep and beef farm located in the Balfour district in Northern Southland where they run ewes, fatten lambs and trade a mix of beef calves and Friesian bulls.

The main focus of his project was the improvement of 80 hectares of low fertility, poor performing paddocks. As part of the project, he analysed the benefits and costs of developing the paddocks by gathering farm data around grass growth, stocking rate and lamb growth rates.

“As a result of the work done as part of my project, I’m now confident I can present the opportunity to develop this land to an investor and raise the capital needed to achieve my target,” he says.

Elder was presented with the award at an event in Adelaide on June 22, which was attended by a selection of graduates from the 2016 FMP as well as this year’s crop of FMP participants and other agricultural industry leaders.

Accepting the award and the accompanying $2,000 cash prize, Elder said his involvement in the FMP had given him a whole new set of skills and the impetus to take control of his farming business.

“Before the course, I found myself ‘sitting on the fence’ and waiting for the right circumstances to give something a try on the farm, but I’m now more confident in my ability to analyse the opportunities available and to make changes to drive the business forward,” he said.

“A big part of this increased confidence came from what I learned at the programme and the opportunity it gave me to rub shoulders with the other farmers at the course who were facing the same issues as I was. I got a huge amount of value from bouncing ideas around with other attendees and finding out what had and hadn’t worked for them.”

Elder says the opportunity to learn from the various program presenters and other course participants had continued after the program and he now had an expanded network of agribusiness experts and like-minded farmers whose knowledge he could tap into.

“Given we were going through the succession process on our farm, I took a lot from the succession planning session that was run at the program. Following the programme, I reached out to the presenter who ran the workshop on this topic and he was able to help me with some of the succession issues relevant to our business.”

Rabobank Business Programs manager Nerida Sweetapple said the management projects were undertaken so that participants could put into practice the tools, theories and ideas from the program and utilise these to make improvements in their own operation over the 12 months after the program.

“”Jonny demonstrated the profound impact that the Farm Managers Program can have on your business. Not only did Jonny gain a great deal of confidence from coming on the program, he gained the ability to draw up a clear business plan and a way to implement it. His business will clearly be better for being able to articulate where he wants to take it,” Ms Sweetapple said.

Now in its twelfth year, the Rabobank Farm Managers program offer young farmers from across Australia and New Zealand from a range of agricultural sectors, the opportunity to develop and enhance their business management skills. Participants take away new skills and techniques with a commercially-driven perspective on farm management, and gain the ability to put systems and structures in place to manage growth.

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