Falling milk prices have seen renewed discussion about the tough times ahead for those in the dairy sector, and as such it seems a timely opportunity to share some insights into how farmers can put themselves into the best possible position to overcome the challenges ahead.
Adaptability and resilience have become critical to successful agribusiness ventures and we see time and again that the most profitable and resilient businesses are the ones where the decision-making over a period of time has been of a high standard.
It’s important to respond with reassurance and agility in times of stress and our bankers are empowered to do what is right for customers; however it is obvious that there are some fundamental actions that separate those farmers who are always affected negatively and the ones next door who grow and prosper through all conditions.
There are five key things they do differently. They:
Have a clear strategy and execute on it quickly.
They know the impacts of adding or taking away costs and have already budgeted both feed and cash so that they are in a position to fill shortages before they happen.
Know what the long term impact of short term decisions were.
Decisions like drying off, keeping cows home from grazing, how many cows to milk, what you do with surpluses in good years, all have an impact and it’s important to know what it is for your business.
Involve their professionals in their process.
They don’t try to solve problems all by themselves. This is important for your mental state as well as your business. Resilience is not staunchly dealing with things on your own.
Your advisers (banker, farm adviser, accountant, fertiliser rep) are in the information market every day and the earlier we can discuss financial and farming pressures with clients and work through their action plan with them, the earlier we are able to consider what assistance we can provide. Don’t leave things until the last minute.
Have a farming structure that adapts and has some redundancy-flexibility in it to cope with, and potentially profit from, adverse events.
If you don’t have a reliable irrigation, there is the possibility that you will face some sort of dry event, and in some cases on a regular basis. The best farmers embrace this fact and have systems in place to ensure that dry conditions are considered as part of the farming system.
Recognise that there are a lot of things they cannot control and focus on controlling the ones they can.
You can’t control the weather or stock-milk prices or the exchange rate or floating interest rates. But you can control your farming system, what pasture species you have, what your stocking rate is at various times of the year.
We found that while support packages for things like extreme weather and other events are important to assist those who are struggling, using them once these events have been announced is really leaving it too late.
It has become clear that building adaptability and resilience is the key differentiator in hard times and some new skills need to be learned and applied where unforeseen pricing and weather events can create stress for farm owners and their families. Farming is tough enough already. If you’re under stress mentally or financially then it’s time to act, because there is probably a better way.
The key is acting before the event takes place, having plans and budget in place and keeping your advisers in the loop. And remember above all, you’re not on your own.
BNZ has partnered with Marlborough sheep and beef farmer Doug Avery to share important, practical advice to work with the volatile current environment through his Resilient Farmer series. The free nationwide BNZ Event Series – Innovate or Stagnate is intended to be a catalyst for farmers to change their current state of play and thinking, sharing practical resilience and business skills tough enough to enable success in tough economic conditions, mounting compliance and an increase in extreme weather.
John Janssen is BNZ’s Head of Agribusiness.