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RESETTING DAIRY INDUSTRY EXPECTATIONS OF THE VALUE OF AGRIBUSINESS SKILLS

BY MERRAN DAVIS

 

This article discusses the resetting of the dairy industry’s expectations of the value of agribusiness skills in order to achieve the outcomes identified in the Dairy Industry Strategy 2010-2020; particularly with regard to increasing farm profitability, and attracting and retaining talented and skilled people to the industry. 

 

According to a DairyNZ study, common characteristics of high performing farms include better benchmarking, budgeting and confident decision making . This is consistent with other research showing a positive correlation between management capability and profitability . Dairy farms are complex businesses operating in a dynamic environment with opportunities and challenges at the strategic, tactical and operational level. Effective agribusiness skills are therefore required to make good business decisions.


A range of organisations share an interest in promoting the implementation of effective agribusiness skills as part of the dairy farm business to New Zealand farmers; including industry bodies, government agencies, farmer networks, education providers, banks, rural professionals, dairy companies and other commercial enterprises. To date, these organisations have not been successful individually or collectively in significantly changing industry understanding of the value of these skills as part of the farm business, nor in getting significant behaviour change on-farm. An aligned intensification of focus and activity is required to result in a step change in industry expectations and on-farm behaviour.


Creating an appreciation of, and demand for, agribusiness skills among a farmer audience underpins the step change required. Success would mean an increase in farmer consumption and implementation of a range of formal, non-formal and informal agribusiness learning products and services which are currently available to them. This needs a strong value proposition for farmers which is consistently communicated using common, clear and compelling key messages, as well as the development of approaches to use these effectively according to the various different farmer segments and channels.


Consultation with organisations providing and promoting agribusiness skills training has revealed a need to develop resources around the communication of key messages to help increase farmer uptake of these training opportunities. Recent farmer capability studies have supported this conclusion and recognised that less formal approaches of engagement are likely to be a valuable alternative to organisation-led marketing campaigns as a means of reaching farmers.


To enable this alternative approach, a clearer understanding of farmers’ concerns and attitudes to gaining skills and undertaking agribusiness training is necessary. A framework has been developed based on a farmer segmentation analysis taking into account three key factors – farm business types, farm operator types and attitudes to training. The intended audience for this work is those who undertake the less formal approaches of engagement and those who have a keen interest in farmers becoming more proficient in business management, such as rural professionals and farm advisers.


For major change to occur however, it is essential that the key industry good bodies are committed to the value proposition and the use of consistent key messaging in their promotion activity with members and stakeholders. Aligning focus and effort in this area would be a positive step towards future collaboration around specific activities which promote the value of agribusiness skills. Developing the capability of those who engage directly with farmers, as well as introducing tangible incentives for upskilling farmers, would go some way towards achieving this.

 

By changing the attitude and behaviour of farmers around the value of agribusiness skills over the next 10 years, dairy farming could increasingly be recognised by the industry as a complex career requiring lifelong learning. Building further, in 20 years, dairy farming could be recognised by the industry as the career of choice for those who aspire to be the leaders of wealth creation and thought leadership in New Zealand.