Farmers head back to the classroom

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Cunderdin farmer Ashley Teakle.
Camera IconCunderdin farmer Ashley Teakle. Credit: Cally Dupe

Farmers are heading back into the classroom to learn skills aimed at upsizing their business, but it’s not just any old classroom, it has been “flipped”.

Planfarm is gearing up to run its third Planfarm Academy at the end of this month, an eight-week course which encourages farmers to drill down into the “engine room” of their business, with a big focus on operating efficiencies.

The farm-business consulting firm held its first academy workshop in August and March last year, quickly attracting enough attention to hold a second in February and March.

Planfarm project consultant Peter Newman, who created the course, estimated more than 50 farm businesses had taken part in the course so far.

“It is not just about education, it is about discovering what it is in your business that needs attention,” he said.

For Cunderdin farmer Ash Teakle, the course has given him the skills and knowledge to talk “on a more even level” with his accountant.

He set aside half a day a week for the course, while continuing to run his 4500ha cropping operation and 1100 mated Merino ewes.

“I never liked going to a review with a consultant or accountant and not being able to talk to them on their level,” he said.

“Doing courses like this gets you up to a level where you can have a more robust debate and talk on more equal terms, rather than having them tell you what it means.”

Mr Newman said the No.1 thing participants were interested in was succession planning, followed by operating efficiency, and then more “traditional” business concerns like tax and personal finance.

“We place a big focus on the question ‘did you get below that 65 per cent operation cost’,” he said.

“If you add up all of your variable costs, and divide it by the total income, you want it to be less than 65 per cent ... you need to have a better than 35 per cent operating profit to make sure you can invest in and potentially grow your business.”

Tenindewa farmer Jen Critch completed the first course, and said it boosted her understanding of the “graphs and tables” she was seeing during farm business meetings.

She completed the course on behalf of her husband, brother-in-law and sister-in-law, and has brought her knowledge into the 17,000ha cropping enterprise they run together.

“It inspired us to go off and have a look at our business ... the questions we ask our support network and accountant are a lot better,” she said.

The eight-week course combines both a traditional and online learning environment, with 20 videos, three webinars and a one-day face-to-face meeting at the end of the course.

The flipped classroom style, which requires participants to watch videos before completing the webinars, was perfect for farmers, Mr Newman said.

The next Planfarm Academy will start on July 22.

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