Farm Finance (2022)

Vic Drought Hub - Farmland 9

Financial Decisions & Drought: Examining the Role of Farm Advisors

Our research, coupled with farmer consultations has identified the importance of building strong farm businesses, in ensuring drought resilience and drought preparedness.

Specifically, the role of farm advisors (such as bank managers, accountants, agronomists, rural suppliers etc) has been highlighted as a key factor in this and therefore, is being examined by the Vic Hub.

Highlights from the research on Farm Finance

The Issue: Siloed Information

Multiple sources have raised the problem of siloed information from farm advisors (Pottinger 2020; Vic Hub, 2022; Halabi, et. al, 2015), meaning it is difficult for farmers to get holistic and tailored advice which reflects their financial position and the management of their farm.

The interplay of what options are available to farmers (i.e. what crops to grow, stock rates etc), the expected seasonal conditions and the financial position of a farming business is critical to being able to make good decisions on production.

However, farm advisors are often experts in their field, with the bank manager understanding lending but not agronomics or the accountant understanding tax but not seed types.

For instance, one study (Halabi et al, 2015) interviewed farm accountants and found farmers, especially the smaller businesses, mainly use an accountant for tax compliance purposes and therefore held little decision-making value.

A lack of independent information

There is solid evidence that the role of farm advisors is increasing.

Publicly provided extension services have diminished in Australia and as such the private sector has stepped in (Nettle, 2019).

Many farm advisers are not fully independent but are employed by a company.

For example, consultants on seed and feed are often employed by a company which supplies a specific set of products.

This has raised concerns about a lack of independent information, with a report commissioned by the National Farmers Federation (Pottinger 2020, p.7) finding “there is not a national body that farmers trust as an independent source on financial and risk matters, or which provides comprehensive national data or benchmarking on relevant metrics”.

Farms are getting more complex

As farms in Australia become larger and more complex, often with significant capital investment, farmers are increasingly turning to farm advisors (Newsome et. al. 2018; Kingwell 2011) and often forming long standing, productive relationships (Nettle 2019).

Farm organisation has shifted too, from being mainly owner-operator to farmers employing staff and managing complex enterprises (Dockes et. al, 2018).

This has brought increased scope for farm advisors, who traditionally provided agronomic or technical advice, but now also occupy spaces around labour, health and safety, regulations, finance and sustainability (Dockes et. al, 2018).

Increasing consumer demands is also leading to the expansion of value chains, an increased focus on natural resource management and social licence, again, leading to an increased need for agribusiness expertise (Bassett et. al, 2022).

Where to now?

The Vic Hub held a Webinar (above) and Think Tank in July 2022 to identify tangible outcomes to help improve knowledge sharing amongst farm advisors and farmer business acumen to ultimately improve farm businesses.

To do this, we will be utilising our network of universities and farming groups to come up with and test ideas and outcomes addressing this issue.

We will update this space with further resources and outcomes derived from the Think Tank as they are developed.  So stay tuned!

Free training and tools for Victorian producers

As one of the outcomes identified from the July 2022 Think Tank on Farm Finances, the current free resources relevant and available to Victorian farmers has been scoped.

Please note the following courses are the free (or free for members) courses available for Victorians. There are many more farm business related courses run by private companies of consultants. Several universities also run courses involving skills in agribusiness and farm business management.

General resources

The Farm Business Resilience Program is supporting farmers to develop the knowledge and skills they need to improve their farm business and be better equipped to manage the impacts of drought and a changing climate.

The program supports farmers to improve skills and management practices in:

  • Business planning and risk management​
  • Farm finances and profitable decision making ​
  • Managing people on farm, farm safety and wellbeing ​
  • Climate adaptation and natural resource improvement including soil, water, crops and pastures ​

The program includes short courses, workshops, webinars, field days and farms walks to suit the varying needs of farmers and community groups.

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Understanding farm business financial performance is a critical step toward improving business profitability. This course will step you through the major financial business management tools that are used to measure the performance of a business, including:

  • liquidity
  • efficiency
  • wealth

This course has been designed for all farmers – for those who are new to managing a farm business, refreshing their knowledge or just wanting to gain further insight into the financial aspects of farm business.

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The need for improved farm business management skills has been identified as a crucial element for Australian farmers to maintain business sustainability, while taking up the opportunity currently occurring in Australian agriculture.

This farm business management manual is a significant investment by the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) to assist farmers with their business skills. There is both a traditional manual and an eBook version of the manual available.

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The Grains Research and Development Council has developed a range of fact sheets on accounting for farm businesses. This includes, benchmarking, profit and loss, cash flow budget, what your tax return tells you and more.

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Resources for dairy enterprises

Dairy Australia's Focus Farms program centres around farming families and enterprises. It aims to assist Focus Farmers to achieve their stated goals during a defined period in which they are supported by a support group made up of farmers and local service providers.

The Focus Farm program has been running for almost 20 years with Focus Farms and their open days giving all farmers insight into how on-farm decisions are made and the impact they have on the broader farm business. Farmers can use Focus Farms as sources of inspiration and reference points to inform their own decision-making.

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Our Farm, Our Plan helps farmers identify long term goals, improve business performance and manage volatility. It was developed by Dairy Australia, with support from Gardiner Dairy Foundation and DairyNZ.

Designed for Australian dairy farmers, Our Farm, Our Plan helps put their big ideas down on paper and get everyone on the farm on the same page. Using a simple ‘Now, Where, How, Review’ planning process and providing one-on-one support for farmers over two years, it assists with putting their plan in place and into action.

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The Farm Business Snapshot provides an analysis of the historical performance of a dairy farm business, helping users to better understand their production costs and overall profitability. The reports will provide additional information to support the decision-making process and enable farmers to take actions in their business that best suit their needs.

This will show the overall cash and profit position of your business and enable you to assess these as a measure of efficiency against the key inputs.

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DairyBase is an online tool enabling dairy farmers and their advisors to measure and compare farm business performance over time. Login to DairyBase. DairyBase enables farmers to create annual reports and forecasts and helps to identify opportunities to drive profit and manage risk. Farmers are equipped to make better informed decisions using DairyBase and generate comparative analysis according to farm size, region and production system.

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The Farm Business Fundamentals training course for groups that is about getting your business information organised. It runs over two to three days and focuses on farm financial management, providing the skills and knowledge to pull together annual farm financial numbers. It also covers budgeting, compliance and farm financial systems. It introduces the Dairy Standard Chart of Accounts and the Dairy Cash Management Planner.

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This two-day workshop focuses on strategic planning, business structure and having what it takes to operate an efficient and 'investment ready' farm business. Participants are encouraged to work 'above the line' and to think strategically about their business goals.

Governance applies to all farming businesses regardless of size, structure or the stage of development. It clarifies roles and responsibilities, direction, purpose and enables improved, informed decision making.

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Farm Business Workshop modules are available for delivery with groups, including discussion groups. These will be rolled out in regions by regional teams, supported by funding to access providers who are best placed to deliver. Workshops include:

  • Meet the bank
  • The dairy office
  • Cost of production

Contact our regional teams to find out what programs are available in your region.

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Resources for Livestock Producers

BetterBeef groups are small groups averaging about 12 producers per group, meeting up to 6 times per year.

BetterBeef groups were established in 2011 to support beef producers to:

Build skills and knowledge to operate more productive, profitable and resilient beef enterprises

Adopt contemporary, evidence-based solutions incorporating the latest research, development and technological innovations in pasture-based extensive livestock production systems. There is a membership fee to join the group.

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BestWool/BestLamb (BWBL) in partnership with Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) is a long standing sheep industry extension program. The BWBL network aims to deliver high quality and relevant services to the Victorian sheep sector that enables producers to implement improvements in aspects of their business.

It is not a direct service provider, but rather a program that facilitates practice change via appropriate learning activities delivered to a large network of producers, coordinators and groups.

On-farm discussion groups form the core of the program. Group members meet regularly for facilitated discussions, farm walks, training workshops and information sessions aimed at improving their confidence to implement practice changes that drive growth and farm profits. There is a membership fee to join the group.

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Cost of production (CoP), measured in cents per kilogram, is an indication of the outlay required to produce each kilogram of meat for beef, sheep and goat.

For producers wanting to improve the performance of their meat-producing enterprise, a good understanding of the current health of the business is essential.

Cost of production is a key factor affecting the profitability of beef, sheep and goat producing businesses. Calculating your cost of production is an important step in assessing herd and flock performance and a first step to making change.

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Making More From Sheep is designed to help sheep producers increase the productivity and profitability of their enterprises and the personal satisfaction of operating a successful farming business. The Business Modules include:

  • Plan for Success
  • Market Focused Wool Production
  • Market Focused Lamb and Sheep Meat production
  • Capable and Confident Producers
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This resource is an information package designed to deliver the essential principles and practices for a successful beef business. The manual draws on the latest R&D as well as the knowledge, skills and experience of producer advocates who helped write the seven modules. The overall goal of the program is to achieve a sustainable (economic and environmental) increase in kilograms of beef produced per hectare through optimal management of the feedbase. More Beef from Pastures coordinates a range of events, activities, workshops, demonstration sites, forums and coaching days that bring the principles, practices and tools from the MBfP program directly to producers in each state. Contact your state coordinator to find out what is on in your area.

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An information package designed to explain the essential processes for a successful goat production system. This applies to goat production as a standalone enterprise or as an enterprise that complements other production systems.

The GiG guide draws on the knowledge, skills and experience of more than 40 goat producers from across Australia. It provides tools and information to help goat producers increase productivity while minimising risk.

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Resources for vegetable and fruit growers

A recent survey of Victorian vegetable producers identified profitability and cost of production as high priority issues for growers, second only to water. Knowing your cost of production is critical to help make the best management decisions for your business, as it provides a measurable way of assessing the cost of producing a product, and the price you are willing to accept for that product. One effective way of assessing your business profitability is to participate in a business benchmarking and cost of production exercise.

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Free TAFE education (agriculture courses, including farm finance)

Apply your business acumen and attention to detail to the farming industry with a Certificate IV in Agribusiness.

You'll learn to collect, analyse and interpret production data, and develop a business and production strategy in response. You'll manage budgets for the farm, and keep an eye on quality assurance and risk management processes.

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You have the option of studying many specialist topics such as pasture management for livestock production, along with the “business side” of this industry with topics including budgeting and whole of farm planning, animal health management and livestock management.

Plus, you will learn in our specialised Rural Sciences Skills Centre, where you can use the equipment and facilities you would find on a modern and well-equipped agricultural enterprise.

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This qualification is suitable for personnel working on farms who currently or aim to manage farm enterprise production. It is also suitable to employees and operators of agribusinesses who provide advice and services to production enterprises on cropping, pasture, livestock or business management.  The subject choices allow you to focus on a specific area of expertise you require whether it is animal health and production, business management or agronomic practices around plant nutrition, soils and weed, pest and disease management.

People who complete this qualification will have developed valuable skills to run a property or provide advice to property managers. The course includes whole farm and business planning.

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Develop your skills and knowledge to gain a supervisory role in an ever-expanding Agricultural sector! If you have a sound business mind and have practical agricultural skills and experience, or have completed a Certificate III in Agriculture, you could develop a career in the primary industry sector as a manager of a farming operation or agribusiness administrator. This course focuses on the practical technical skills, agricultural techniques and operations of running an agricultural enterprise.

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Decision-making tools

My Farm Dashboard provides automated and on-demand access to:

  • Climate records and seasonal forecast data
  • Satellite derived pasture biomass estimates
  • Soil moisture probe data
  • Historic commodity prices
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This tool is designed to step you through a simple process to develop a decision matrix. It works best with difficult or complex decisions, where many things need to be weighed up, but these considerations may not be of equal importance. You define the decision, and the Wizard will guide you through the process.

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Read our blog on farm advisors, or watch our Webinar on Financial Decisions and Drought:

Vic Drought Hub - Farmland 9