Farm Business Planning. What’s More Important – the Journey or the Destination?

This is a summary of my recent interview with ABC Radio, talking about my take on the Farm Business Resilience (FBR) program.

The interviewer wanted my perspective on the Federal Government announcement about the Future Drought Fund and its plans to spend $20 million in the first year to help farmers develop business plans and business management skills.

During the introduction to the interview, I was surprised to hear the Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud say that there have been university studies around Australia that indicate more than 50% of farmers don’t have business plans. Wow!

I’ll be the first one to put my hand up and say I don’t jump out of the gate at the start of each year, excitedly looking forward to my annual business planning process.

Over time I’ve realised it’s not a one session wonder and has greater value as an iterative process, allowing me to incorporate new ideas and opportunities as the year unfolds. (Note – COVID-19 didn’t rate a mention in my January 2020 version! Since then, online facilitation has become a core part of my business delivery model.)

Back to the interview…

Program structure

Initiated in 2010, FBR brought together farming businesses to work collaboratively through a strategic planning process.

The real value of the program was in bringing all people involved in the business together with an independent facilitator to guide them through a structured planning process.

This helped them to really think through their future and make sure that every person in the business had a voice in that process.

The FBR process was well structured with a five module program held over one to two months. Programs were delivered locally, with members of up to six farm businesses involved, supported by independent facilitators. Farm Business Planning

Kicking off we’d look at the bigger picture about where they saw the business going and who was going to be involved in it into the future.  Other modules looked at the financial components of the business, natural resource management asset in terms of soils and sustainability; and importantly, the family side of it.

On the family side, participants discussed who’s going to be involved in the business, what sort of roles do they want and what kind of say do they want to have over management of the business. This was one of the most critical conversations during the program.

Did planning make a difference?

My interviewer, the fabulous Emma Field, asked if there was any evidence that it made any difference in people’s businesses.

Great question!

My experience since has been that since the FBR program finished in 2012, I’ve run into people all over Western Australia who have implemented their plans and got massive value from it.

This was the critical success factor for me – implementation!

Some businesses made significant changes in moving from the broad acre based businesses into the pastoral sector. Continuing their collaborative planning approach, they made some really valuable long term decisions and investments bringing the next generation into the process as well.

It highlights that the measure of any planning is how well it’s drawn upon and actively utilised.

That to me is the answer to the great Journey vs Destination discussion – what was learnt along the way and how well have we used it to adapt and make positive changes throughout our business.

As a footnote, a review of the program, based on responses from 165 of the 900 farm businesses involved, found they felt more prepared for drought after doing the workshops and also reported improvements in personal and farm family wellbeing. Interestingly, the review report said future programs should address market failures, particularly gaps in information and shouldn’t undermine incentives for farmers to self- prepare.

PS – the ABC interview is now featured as one of my Working with Teams podcasts. I’d appreciate you (a) subscribing; and (b) being interviewed for my next podcast

PPS – keep a listen out for me discussing rural leadership in the newly launched Regional Leadership Australia podcast series

 

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Andrew Huffer

Andrew Huffer has over 25 years experience in working with organisations, businesses, managers and communities and at a state, national and international level. He designs and delivers specialist engagement processes, with a focus on facilitating open decision making processes and skill development of clients. He has delivered presentations and workshops at a number of state, national and international conferences.

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