The Business of Dairy

Setting My Business up for Success

May 01, 2022 Season 1 Episode 12
The Business of Dairy
Setting My Business up for Success
Show Notes Transcript

This month we take a look at business planning – getting clarity on what your business is about, what you are trying to achieve and how you are going to get there.

A report by the UK’s Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) in 2018 identified 8 factors that characterised their top performing farms, one of which is ‘setting goals and budgets’. Their findings showed that (quote) “Farms that write a formal long-term business plan are more profitable than others. Writing your ambitions down is one of the most successful ways to visualise in your mind what you want to do and therefore for it to happen,…”

Greg Duncan leads a national program developed by Dairy Australia called Our Farm Our Plan that aims to support and guide farm businesses through their own business planning. He will explain this program to us today.

Sarah Wake is involved in the family farm near Singleton in the Hunter Valley and shares with us her experiences in the program thus far.

Useful resources related to this podcast:

Our Farm, Our Plan landing page on the Dairy Australia Website.

Farm Business Snapshot

Farm Fitness Checklist

Farmers can also call the Our Farm, Our Plan team on 1800 548 073


This podcast is an initiative of the NSW DPI Dairy Business Advisory Unit 

It is brought to you in partnership the Hunter Local Land Services

Please share this podcast with your fellow farmers and colleagues and feel free to contact us with suggestions or comments via this email address

Further NSW DPI Dairy channels to follow and subscribe to include:

NSW DPI Dairy Facebook page

DPI Intensive Livestock Twitter feed

NSW DPI Dairy Newsletter

Episode transcript

Produced by Video Lift

The information discussed in this podcast are for informative and educational purposes only and do not constitute advice. 

The Business of Dairy 


Episode #12 Transcript – “Setting My Business up for Success”


Sheena Carter: Welcome to the Business of Dairy Podcast. I'm Sheena Carter, Development Officer with the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries Dairy Team. Our last episode focused on the importance of tax planning. This month we take a look at business planning as a whole. Getting clarity on what your business is about. What you are trying to achieve and how you're going to get there. A report by the UK's Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board in 2018 identified eight factors that characterised their top performing farms, one of which is setting goals and budgets. Their findings showed that, and I quote: “Farmers that write a formal, long term business plan are more profitable than others. Writing your ambitions down is one of the most successful ways to visualize in your mind what you want to do and therefore for it to happen.”


This episode, I'm joined by two guests, Greg Duncan, who leads a national program developed by Dairy Australia called Our Farm Our Plan, that aims to support and guide farm businesses through their own business planning. He will explain this program to us today. 


Also with us is Sarah Wake, who is involved in the family farm near Singleton in the Hunter Valley and shares with us her experience with the program thus far. 


Welcome Greg and Sarah to the Business of Dairy Podcast. 


Sarah Wake: Hi, Sheena. 


Greg Duncan: G’day, Sheena. Great to see you both. 


Sheena Carter: Yeah, and it's lovely to have you both on this podcast. This marks a full year of podcasts for the Business of Dairy. Podcast number 12. So it'll be a good one. Look, we're here to talk about planning in businesses, and it's a very important activity that happens at all sorts of different levels. We've got the day to day sort of operational planning, and then we've got the more medium term tactical planning that happens in a business, and then, you know, the bigger direction, the strategic decision making or planning that happens in a business. Greg, can you just explain to me how does Our Farm, Our Plan fit in with this planning structure? 


Greg Duncan: Absolutely Sheena, I mean, having a clear view of the long term business and your personal goals helps you make better decisions, especially when it comes to the big decisions, right. So Our Farm, Our Plan aims to enable Australian dairy farmers to apply strategic thinking and planning processes to achieve their agreed business and lifestyle goals. It's about formalising a business direction, including business and personal goals. It's about assessing their current position and associated risks. It's about identifying and prioritising their options, as well as having a plan and then being able to communicate that plan amongst people within the farm team and outside the business. And lastly, it's about monitoring the plan and making changes where needed because the goalposts will move, right. 


Sheena Carter: It's a bit like setting a budget, isn't it? Which, you know, some people think why bother? But it does give you a bit of a roadmap and a plan as to where you're going. And as you say, you've got to have that flexibility in the planning. It's not set and forget. So, look, it looks like there's a lot involved in that process. It's very much a here and now. What's our business position currently and where do we want to go? I'll play devil's advocate. What if I'm a farmer? And I think, well, you know, I'm on a family farm, I've got all that information in my head. I don't need to sit down and go through this process. What would your response to that? 


Greg Duncan: Look, Sheena, most farmers I meet have a plan in their head, and that's one of the great things that farmers are really good at. I think what's changed over time, and Dairy Australia's board have really recognised this, is about the need to strengthen strategic plans across the dairy sector. And by this I mean there's many challenges in the operating environment, right, especially ones with long term implications. So we feel there's a bit of a need to shift towards a more proactive business culture in the industry. There's also research which points to a need for more reflective practices in the dairy industry. So Our Farm, Our Plan really helps farmers get their plans in their head out onto paper in a fashion where they can start to share them with other people in their business and other stakeholders that will help them achieve those goals for the future. 


Sheena Carter: Yes, it's always the power of a team and bringing everyone on the journey with you. Yeah, so Greg, who is Our Farm, Our plan targeted at? Obviously within the dairy industry, we've got the whole gamut from, you know, owner managers, employees, share farmers, lease farmers. Who are we targeting? 


Greg Duncan: Well, Sheena, just about everyone. Though it's primarily targeted at dairy business owners and dairy business operators in the first sense, though it is definitely of value for anyone looking to build confidence in their own future in the dairy industry. They're absolutely welcome to enrol as we have a variety of programs. We've already run programs for the Young Dairy Network, focused on career progression. We've also run dedicated discussion groups and milk processor Our Farm, Our Plan groups, as well as those more focused on succession and transition in dairy businesses. Like the one that Sarah was a participant in recently. So getting involved is actually really simple if you want to build confidence in your career, your future in the dairy industry. 


Sheena Carter: Yeah, that's fantastic. So it's catering for everyone and I guess there you're saying you've had some, let’s call them themed Our Farm, Our Plan sessions, but you also have more general open… you know, it doesn't have to be focused around succession planning or whatever it might be. 


Greg Duncan: Not at all. It's for anyone that wants to have a clearer plan of where they want to be in the future. 


Sheena Carter: Okay, fantastic. So how is it structured? Obviously, there's workshops involved, but could you explain the process to me for a participant? 


Greg Duncan: Yeah sure, absolutely. So Our Farm, Our Plan is what we call a supported change extension model. What's different about this situation is there's quite a deal of one on one support throughout the program. So each program or workshop is conducted by a local regional extension officer and facilitated by a skilled and trained dairy business consultant. Historically, farmers would have accessed this sort of training, the face to face environment, and we still offer that, though we now have multiple pathways for participants to enter into the program. So as I said, there's the traditional three day workshop split over 2 to 4 months. There's now a blended model which replaces those face to face workshops with seven Zoom based sessions over a weekly basis where farmers come together from across the country or across the state or across a region, and from their own environment. So it's about an hour a week and they Zoom into those sessions. There's also one called an intensive program, which in essence is a shortened face to face, which includes an overnight stay off farm. And lastly, there's a self-paced option where farmers can access the online tools and resources themselves and make their own journey through Our Farm, Our Plan up until the one on one sessions. So all of these four approaches include one on one support over the two year period. 


Sheena Carter: Fantastic. So it's well resourced. It obviously takes a bit of time. Of course, you've got your short intensive one, but it is a journey and getting everyone around the table. I'm assuming you're trying to encourage as many people from the business to participate as possible. 


Greg Duncan: Absolutely. Ideally, we get the key stakeholders for the business involved in each of the sessions. We know that's not always possible, but we also know that if there's at least one key member of the business involved on a regular basis, that will stimulate the discussion from week to week or workshop to workshop. And that's the key, is the communication about where are we at? Where do we want to go? 


Sheena Carter: Fantastic. Yes, and I'm certainly aware of other farmers that have done it, you know, completely independent of any workshops or supported activities and, you know, multigenerational farmers where one generation has gone and worked through the activities themselves, and the checklists, and the other has done the same and they've come together to try and find some common ground and understand where each party is coming from. So it is a good process whether you're doing it in that structured or informal way. Okay. So can you actually outline some of the content that we get in the workshops and resources? 


Greg Duncan: Look, absolutely Sheena. So it kicks off invariably with a getting to know you session, depending on where the group is coming from, whether they're face to face or online, and then it runs through a series of structured workshops using a planning cycle that helps equip farmers to nail down their vision, their goals, their actions, and get all of this down onto paper. With the end result being farmers having developed what's called a ‘plan on a page’. It's a one page business plan, right? So we call this approach the ‘now, where, how’ logic. It's quite simple, yet it's powerful because it literally steps farmers through their own focus on, where am I at now? Where do I want to be in the future? And how on earth am I going to get there? So the outcome as mentioned, being the ‘plan on the page’, really to get all of the different business stakeholders on that same page. We know this process gives farmers more confidence that they have a shared vision for their long term goals from both a business and a personal point of view. It also enables better communication of those visions across the different members or stakeholders in the business or even outside the business, whether that’s the accountant, the financier, those sorts of things. But I also think it gives farmers a greater sense of achievement as they look back at their plan and track their progress and also be a little bit more accountable about what it is they set out to achieve over the two years ahead. So as I mentioned earlier, there's quite a bit of one to one support. It's actually a significant part of Our Farm, Our Plan and that's essentially been built into the program from the get go. So as I mentioned, the skilled dairy business consultant is involved from the very first workshop. There's one on one follow ups with that consultant to help build the plan on the page and then check in as time goes by. There's also touch points from the local extension officer over the two year period, so really the participants are never left by their own at any point throughout the two years. 


Sheena Carter: Yeah, it sounds like it's really well supported to help people through that process. We might switch over to you, Sarah. You've recently well, you're in the process, I should say, of an Our Farm, Our Plan group which kicked off this year. I've introduced you earlier saying that you're on a family farm in the Singleton area with your father-in-law and your husband. What was it that made you participate in this program? 


Sarah Wake: Okay, so we're obviously a family operated farm and we were considering the future of the business and also the future of our family. When we're on the farm, though, we find that it's really easy to become focused on those day to day operations because basically you’re dealing with what presents itself immediately to you. So by doing the Our Farm, Our Plan program, we thought that would give us an opportunity to take a step back, look at our business as a whole, get a fair evaluation of where we're at and what we'd like to achieve and what plans we could make for the future with the added support from our regional extension officer and also the farm business consultant. 


Sheena Carter: Excellent, excellent. And it is, as you say, it is in any business, but particularly in a dairy business, it is so easy to get bogged down in the day to day and actually find the time to be able to commit and do something like this. So I think, yeah, well done. I think it's wonderful to see. So what have you enjoyed about the program so far? 


Sarah Wake: I think for us, each family member brings different strengths and experiences to the table, so we each have ideas on what we'd like to implement, or the changes that we can make in order for the business to grow. Through doing the program, we're able to identify our vision for the business, outline our values as well, and from there we were able to set those long term business goals and personal goals. And I feel like our ideas are no longer just thoughts, or quiet thoughts we might have, but they're now part of a strategic plan. And because we're all open to this strategic plan, we're all on the same page and we've got that same clarity or clear direction for what our future might be for the business. 


Sheena Carter: So prior to going through this process, would it be fair to say that that wasn't particularly clear in the business? Where you were… I mean, obviously, you know, the business has been around for a long time and, you know, it's done well over a long period of time, but people might have had different ideas where it was going, I guess. 


Sarah Wake: I think so. And also to this so many different changes that you can make in regards to the people that operate or work within the business, the environment that you have, your feed structure like, I don't know, there's just so many different ideas or changes that you can make. We were having a hard time just trying to prioritise those and making sure that we're all on that same page. And just thinking, okay, you know what, by doing the farm fitness checklist we've identified, okay, this is a problem that we probably need to look at sooner rather than later and yeah, manage everything from there. So I feel like it definitely helped us get clarity and even though we all have different ideas and so Gavin might’ve identified an issue with an irrigation, whereas I might have identified an issue with administration, but we're able to work out stuff that we can solve together and what to prioritise, I guess. 


Sheena Carter: Yeah, and I guess that's the beauty of a family business where you've got quite a few people involved and everyone's got strengths and can see other opportunities in the business. So unless you actually sit down and have that discussion, they may never be known or appear. So can you quickly explain Sarah, where you are up to in your journey with Our Farm, Our Plan? 


Sarah Wake: Okay, so we've just completed our consultant session where we've done our ‘plan on a page’. So we've basically outlined all our visions and our values and probably the most important part of that is outlining the actions that we need to take and setting that time frame for when we'd like to have achieve those goals or actions by. And I think for that, that's been really good for us because that's giving us some accountability and it's also given us a chance if something else pops up in the meantime, we can review those actions in the time frames and make sure that we're really realistic with what we need to achieve. So that's sort of where we're at with the program. 


Sheena Carter: Okay, so you’ve still got, Greg mentioned earlier, there's a series of check ins as you go from the workshops, you still have some of those to come? 


Sarah Wake: That's right. 


Sheena Carter: And the sessions, the one on one session with the consultant is valuable? How do you find that? 


Sarah Wake: I think it's been great because we've had really difficult discussions in regards to succession planning because that's been a particular focus for us. And it's not that there's been any issues amongst the family members – we just didn't know how to communicate all of our ideas effectively and just make sure that everyone was heard and just making sure that everyone's needs are met. So I think by doing the Our Farm, Our Plan we can make sure that we've been able to have those open and honest discussions and the process hasn't been as daunting for a topic that might be difficult for some. 


Sheena Carter: Yeah, that's excellent. Really good. And I think this is one of the things that, you know, in the past a lot of workshops have been done where you go in, whether it's a succession planning workshop, you get the information and you walk away and you’re sort of left to deal with it by yourselves and sometimes it's hard to put all the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle together. So yeah, obviously that one on one support is of value. Are there any particular challenges that you've found working through the process? 


Sarah Wake: Well obviously, the topic of succession – that was probably a little bit challenging, but I feel that it was a great way to do the program, it was a great way for us to handle that situation, so everything's been fantastic there. But probably the most challenging thing I found was actually doing our vision drawing. Gavin and myself and Max were not Picasso but we were able to get our ideas on a page, but it was a real eye opener because we were able to identify similarities like, what we'd want to achieve on the farm, or with increasing our heard size or improving our cow health. It was just great. Even though we're different stages with our artistic work and we're not going to win prizes, there’s no Archibald here, but it was just really good for us, I feel like there's definitely no barriers, it’s open communication and yeah, it was just a really nice way for us to be able to get our visions across. 


Sheena Carter: Yeah, excellent, that's really good. So maybe, Greg, we should have a drawing competition, a national drawing competition at the end of the year – ‘visions on a page’ and see how the dairy farmer artistry works. 


Greg Duncan: Sheena, I am constantly amazed at the artistic ability of many farmers across the dairy industry. In fact, it could well be a second career for many when you look at the drawings that come out of the vision drawing exercise. 


Sheena Carter: Good stuff. Okay, so we're very good at, or not so good at, our drawing, but it's certainly served a purpose and got you where you needed to be. Can you tell me about your experience using some of the other tools as part of the planning process? 


Sarah Wake: I think the Farm Fitness Checklists and also the Quick Plan resources, they helped us to identify where we are now, where we want to be and how we're going to get there. So it didn't seem as daunting a process. We knew where to start and the tools we needed to get there. I think that using these tools, along with the Smart Framework, the goal setting, it's helped us to transition our ideas into actions that will increase the likelihood of success and us following through with the plan too. So that's why I think these tools have been really beneficial for us. 


Sheena Carter: Great, so it gives you some structure and helps you ask the right questions, I guess. 


Sarah Wake: That's right. 


Sheena Carter: Greg, did you want to say any more about the tools and how they’re used within the program? 


Greg Duncan: Yeah, absolutely, Sheena. And that's great feedback from Sarah because we know farmers are busy, right? And we know that dairy farm businesses and the families associated with them are complex. So it is often hard to know where to start, and that's exactly where the suite of tools are designed to assist. So the Farm Fitness Checklist that Sarah mentioned, it's an online self-assessment tool which helps you to evaluate where you and your business are at now and then to think about areas of focus or improvement. It can be used anywhere, any time and on any device. The Quick Plan, a separate tool, uses a three step process to take plans in your head and develop a clear understanding of your long term business and personal goals and then get them down onto paper. The Farm Business Snapshot, which is more from a business analysis point of view, provides an easy way for dairy farmers to effectively analyse and assess their business profitability. It creates a snapshot of the business, which only requires five pieces of physical inputs and the annual income and expenses for a production year. So it helps compare the cash and profit position for the business against some regional benchmarks if needed, as well as using a nice traffic light system and charts to visually help farmers assess how their business has performed over time and against benchmarks. 


So there's those three main tools which we use sporadically through the program and can actually be accessed by farmers at any time, any space that they feel is appropriate to help them work through some challenges or opportunities for their own path forwards. 


Sheena Carter: Excellent. So I guess, you know, on that, if there are people that are curious about these resources, we can put a link in our show notes to them, but also I guess, what's the best way… jump on the Dairy Australia website or approach extension offices? What would you suggest? 


Greg Duncan: Yeah look, all of the above, Sheena. Getting involved is really simple and a matter of going to things like the or by looking at Dairy Australia's online events calendar or by thumbing through the many social media pages where there are many references to Our Farm, Our Plan and some really neat videos now from previous participants. They can also contact their Local Regional Development Program or their local regional extension officer. There is also a 1800 number for Our Farm, Our Plan which is 1800 548 073, where that will come through to the Our Farm, Our Plan team. So lots of ways for farmers to get involved and find the tools and resources. 


Sheena Carter: Excellent, fantastic. So getting involved shouldn't be a barrier – there's many, many means of doing it. That's excellent. And we will put a link in the show notes if people would like to scroll down on their podcasting app and click on some of those resources and have a look themselves or, as Greg says, reach out to your regional development programs or the websites and find the information. Greg, obviously there's a lot happening in Our Farm, Our Plan space at the moment, did you want to flag any particular events or just steer people towards the calendar?


Greg Duncan: There is a host of events coming up both face to face, so the three day workshops, intensive workshops and online workshops and the self-paced program is always there. So I would really encourage people to look at their newsletters that come out from across the dairy industry or please jump on the online Dairy Australia events calendar because that's where they'll find something that's maybe closest to them or easiest to access. 


Sheena Carter: Okay great, thanks Greg. And Sarah, to other farmers out there that might be going, “oh, I don’t know if this is quite the thing for me”, what would you say to them? 


Sarah Wake: I understand that you're time poor, but if you get this opportunity to find just five minutes of your day to put towards the program and finding a way that the program's run that suits you, it's definitely going to benefit you. It's a great opportunity to evaluate your business and get you thinking about aspects of your farm that you might not have considered for a while or had a chance to review in some time. It will reinforce your strengths and help you identify any areas for improvement or any ways that you could mitigate some risks so that you can effectively also prioritise your goals, and then, most importantly, if it's more than one key stakeholder involved in the business, it just opens up those lines of communication to make sure that you're all on the same page. 


Sheena Carter: Yep, that's excellent. And as we said earlier, planning is a very important process and a written plan particularly. There's plenty of research out there saying, to actually make things happen it's really important to articulate, write down and articulate the goals and the direction for your business. So congratulations, Sarah, on starting that journey. I think it's wonderful to see and obviously it's great to see the value that you're getting out of the process and the rest of the family. So thank you to you very much for your time and sharing your experiences with our audience today, it's been wonderful. 


Sarah Wake: Thank you, thanks for having us. It's been a great opportunity and yeah, definitely recommend getting involved. 


Sheena Carter: Lovely, thanks, Sarah. And Greg, thanks for the big picture on Our Farm, Our Plan and what it's all about and how people can get involved. It's been great speaking with you. 


Greg Duncan: Likewise, Sheena. It's fantastic to see farmers like Sarah get tremendous value out of the Our Farm, Our Plan program, so like Sarah, I would encourage everyone to get involved, reach out and get on board. 


Sheena Carter:  Thank you for listening to this month's The Business of Dairy Podcast, produced by the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries Dairy Business Advisory Unit. This series is also brought to you with funding and support from the Hunter Local Land Services. In order to set your business up for success it is very important that you have clarity about why you are in business and what it is that you are trying to achieve. It's not only clarity for one member of the business, it is clarity and direction for everyone in the business, so you can all work together towards your goals. It's not just in one person's head. You can go about developing your business plan in many ways, but Dairy Australia have created an opportunity for you to use a structured and supported approach that has been very well received by participants such as the Wakes. So I would encourage you to reach out to them via your regional extension officer, the Dairy Australia website – which is in the show notes as a link, or by calling the 1800 number.


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