CBH Elections: Three farmers competing for District 1 role

Countryman
Meet the trio vying for selection in District 1 of the CBH board.
Camera IconMeet the trio vying for selection in District 1 of the CBH board. Credit: Danella Bevis/Danella Bevis

A new director will take the District 1 position on CBH’s board after Rod Madden announced his retirement.

Three farmers are vying for the three-year term, including Kirrilee Warr of Yuna, Gareth Rowe of Walkaway, and Ken Seymour of Miling.

The successful candidate would be one of two District 2 directors, after Dalwallinu farmer Brian McAlpine was elected to District 1 unopposed in 2018. Countryman speaks to the 2020 candidates.

KIRRILEE WARR, YUNA

Tell us a bit about yourself

Yuna farmer Kirrilee Warr.
Camera IconYuna farmer Kirrilee Warr. Credit: Supplied

I’m a director and business manager at Agnire Farming Co, a mixed grain and sheep enterprise, with my husband Brett.

I am a fourth-generation farmer, wife, mother, and active community member living at Yuna, and a genuine and inquisitive rural ambassador who embraces regional, rural, and remote communities.

I like interacting with, and encouraging other people, listening to people’s stories, and implementing action-oriented outcomes.

My passions include a sustainable agricultural industry, regional development, emphasising rural-city relations, education, community contentedness and ag-innovation.

I am family-first orientated who enjoys cooking, playing tennis and netball, reading in a book club, and travel.

Why have you nominated for a director position?

I nominated for the CBH board as a grower director to say in a few words: “create beneficial legacy”.

Inspired by family, growers, past and current board members and executive, the challengers of the co-operative, and those who envy what we have created here in WA.

Previous generations have created one of Australia’s most successful co-operatives. One that demands value for the grain growers of WA.

Co-operative value has been possible because in its infancy farmers asked why? Challenged. Created. Innovated. And because of this grain growers now have the privilege of consolidating and leveraging that value.

My hope is that CBH will be as great, if not better, than today so the next generation has the exceptional beneficial value of the co-operative.

What do you think you can bring to the CBH board?

I would be a new diverse voice to the co-operative and would work hard to represent WA grain growers’ interests and contribute to CBH’s greater good.

Current and previous leadership experiences along with being a director of Agnire Farming Co include: Racing and Wagering Western Australian board member, Shire of Chapman Valley vice-president and councillor and a CBH GAC member in addition to other roles.

What are your thoughts on corporatising CBH?

I am a firm believer in the co-operative model.

Corporatisation will always be in the back of people’s minds since the recent challenge from the Australian Grain Champions.

It hasn’t been the first challenge in the co-op’s history, and the debate is not disappearing.

There is likely to be further attempts in the future to corporatise.

In my mind the co-operative is in its strongest transformative era. The challenges of the past have propelled executive, board, and members into testing conversations. It has made us sit up and ask more questions. It has made us ask why.

And that to me led to rigorous research and inquiry of the current business model, which was overwhelmingly supported. It led to change in policy and procedures and strengthened CBH.

What is your view on CBH investing outside WA?

Investments can be a positive diversification to any business. The question is how much and what type? It is something co-op members should ask, but even more so a question directors should ask.

I would consider investments by CBH as significant business opportunities if they align with our strategy and purpose of returning value to WA grain growers.

The investment portfolio of CBH, I expect, is informed by the co-op’s risk appetite and risk strategy.

What challenges and opportunities do you see for CBH?

The challenges are fierce in the grains industry and CBH will directly or indirectly heed these challenges, including:

Social licence to operate and adjusting to new measures expected by society and defining purpose aligned with these new measures.

Innovating in a competitive grains sector.

Effects of changing climate and weather variability.

And with challenges comes opportunities, including:

Leveraging deep-rooted nostalgic collective wisdom of members to achieve profit for purpose.

Strong alignment with stakeholders to collaborate within the industry.

Fast follower of technology and possibilities to learn from other industries.

Heeding the challenges and realising the opportunities could be achieved with an enterprising, bold, growth mindset.

GARETH ROWE, WALKAWAY

Tell us a bit about yourself

I have broad business experience.

Initially as a business consultant before deciding I needed to prove I knew what I was talking about and that it worked.

Walkaway farmer Gareth Rowe.
Camera IconWalkaway farmer Gareth Rowe. Credit: CBH

So I serially started and grew businesses; it is a whole different level of challenge.

You have got to be disciplined, focused hardworking and prepared to put the time in and starve all distractions.

Out of necessity I did this over a number of years and industries. Farming, though, and the people in it are my passion.

Above all I care.

Why have you nominated for a director position?

CBH is important to all of us. It is sad when there is enough dissatisfaction that farmers call CBH to account through the ACCC.

There are enough challenges without fighting between ourselves: caused by a feeling of unfairness, lack of transparency, inequity and distrust.

We need confident and credible board members to move the strategy and culture of CBH forward we need sound organisational culture with the ethics of teamwork.

The second aspect is finance: profits have declined since 2014 and now we have a loss.

It seems to me that there has been some corporate governance failure to allow the losses to escalate as they have done in the past year. We cannot afford it.

Three years ago I championed the idea that a proper vision and strategy was drawn up for CBH to take the business and its membership forward.

If we had a clear strategy, it would create the solid foundation on which to take decisions. I still cannot see this happening.

What do you think you can bring to the CBH board?

It is all to do with values ability and experience: CBH is there for its members so listen to them.

You are bound by confidentiality so the way to influence decisions is through debate and rigorous and challenging questioning.

I am honest open and constructive.

As a board member there needs to be trust between board and management, often people struggle with understanding accounts.

My experience in aspects of business will help this.

The “can we but should we” argument.

Are there more losses before this is turned around? We need some brave people.

What are your thoughts on corporatising CBH?

CBH should not be corporatised; the reason it keeps getting raised is the equity value.

As a co-op, farmers receive their value through the service it provides not through any intrinsic equity holding. This means members judge the value and performance by the service.

What is your view on CBH investing outside WA?

The co-operative structure means members want patronage benefits.

Longer-term investment beyond the service provision will lack commitment without addressing the issues of poorly defined property rights.

You need adequately defined and enforced ownership rights protected under contract and logically linked to the patronage through the co-op.

This should have been sorted out before offshore investments were made.

Any investment must be profitable particularly if there is no equity benefit. A clear strategy would address this.

What challenges and opportunities do you see for CBH?

There is a lot of work to do. Who-ever gets elected needs to have a real focus on rebuilding the culture.

The initial challenge must be to arrest these losses.

From a board perspective you need confidence that the information is made available and that the processes are in place.

KEN SEYMOUR, MILING

Tell us a bit about yourself

My family has produced grain and sheep in the Miling district for four generations.

I have worked in partnership with my brothers on the farm for 35 years and bring a wealth of experience in transport and storage of grain in the Wheatbelt.

Ken Seymour.
Camera IconKen Seymour. Credit: Shire of Moora

If elected to the board I will have the time and enthusiasm to make a valuable contribution for grower members.

I have a sound background in working collaboratively as part of a team.

For the last seven years I have been an active councillor for the Shire of Moora, six years as president.

I am a member of the Local Government Agricultural Freight Group, currently as president.

Demonstrating my interest and knowledge in working with government to optimise effective freight for grain to storage and to port and my ability to implement strategic decisions through good leadership.

I have an understanding of grain framing systems in the whole district and the different requirements of each aspect of CBH to growers throughout district one.

Why have you nominated for a director position?

I firmly believe CBH needs to remain globally competitive and attractive to the majority of growers to retain the power, efficiency and options afforded in volume of commodity.

I want to investigate the most effective options for storage and transport of grain for growers. I believe this includes looking at our social licence to use transport routes, mechanisms to utilise modern technologies to increase efficiencies and develop clear communication with all stakeholders including growers, local governments and service providers.

I understand the benefits of controlling the whole supply chain and the opportunity CBH’s overseas milling investments could bring.

I would like the board to continue to evaluate investment risks and benefits with open consultation with its grower members.

I have been encouraged to nominate by retiring and current board members.

What do you think you can bring to the CBH board?

I would bring to the board experience in grain production, an extensive knowledge of current transport systems and their limitations, a record of good governance, integrity and fairness.

And an ability to listen to growers and work as an influential and collaborative team member. I have a desire for continual improvement through research and consultation.

What are your thoughts on corporatising CBH?

The CBH co-operative model is sound.

Most importantly it is important to maintain grower control.

I am keen to continue to look at the most beneficial way to run a co-operative the size of CBH.

If corporatising CBH came under consideration again I would want to ensure communication with growers was clear and consultative.

What is your view on CBH investing outside WA?

I understand the benefits and opportunities investments throughout the supply chain provides.

We need to learn from past investment decisions and continually improve the way CBH does business to ensure maximum benefit is provided to the growers.

Investments outside WA must be in partnership and must be well negotiated to ensure use of WA grain is negotiated with the investment.

What challenges and opportunities do you see for CBH?

Social licence is both a challenge and opportunity CBH needs to embrace.

The aim is for CBH decisions to have a positive social impact on local communities.

A challenge is to maximise transport of grain on rail.

There is always opportunity to continue to improve and create and return value to growers.

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