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A Royal Connection: The Commonwealth Study Conference Global Leaders Series.

The Commonwealth Study Conference Global Leaders Series (CSC) took place online recently. This was the first occasion Rural Leaders had been invited to attend. CSC Leader and Patron, HRH The Princess Royal also attended the event for the formal launch of this quarterly programme.

The series is designed to take on the big subjects, overlaying leadership, and hearing from key leaders around the Commonwealth.

Hosted by Coutts & Co. CEO, and Deputy Chair CSC UK, Peter Flavel, and Sir Alan Parker, Chair CSC UK, 28 countries were represented, over 200 people were online. Many insightful questions were asked, including: mental health, COVID-19, loss, EV’s, sustainability and that it’s ‘OK not to be OK’.

A range of topics were covered by speakers including Bernard Looney CEO, BP, who was very open about the challenges and opportunities for BP and the environment. As CEO, he has set BP on an extremely ambitious course of transformation as an energy company.

The meeting was held in tandem with other like-minded organisations such as RASC, NZ Rural Leaders, Nuffield Scholars, and the CSC UK delivery partners ‘The Association of Commonwealth Universities.’

HRH The Princess Royal made several helpful observations on societal expectations and then on blue and green hydrogen.

The event put Nuffield and NZ Rural Leaders in the minds of some significantly senior international leaders.

Of the event, Peter Flavel said that this was a “Significant point in CSC history – delighted to be partnering with CSC Global Alumni.”

A special thanks to those who were able to attend. And for those who missed it, we will endeavour to share the recording once the Palace approves it.

Mandi McLeod on succession, animal welfare and mental health.

We caught up with 2009 Nuffield Scholar Mandi McLeod, who was speaking to us from Pirongia, Waikato. Mandi is an agri-business consultant who specialises in farm animal welfare, on both sides of the supply chain.

Internationally certified in dairy cow auditing and trained as a Cow Signals Master, she uses her passion, knowledge and experience to create animal welfare audit programmes for her clients.

With a degree in agricultural science and a master’s degree in rural systems management, Mandi is also highly experienced in group facilitation and farm business management, transition and succession planning.

A start in succession planning. 

I grew up on a family dairy farm in Morrinsville, and we transitioned out of that through our own succession plan about five and a half years ago. We now have an urban ranch with a beef cattle herd. It keeps me grounded.

Twelve years ago, when I did my Nuffield Scholarship, there wasn’t much research out there on succession planning. Not just how the assets in a family farm business are transitioned, but also how values, knowledge and skills are transferred from one generation to the next. So, I looked at this for my Nuffield research paper. I was able to create my own business through what I learned. It became my focus for the following decade.

 At the time, succession planning was only found in an urban business context. Crazy when you consider that in our farming communities, we usually live and work on farm, so business is very close to home. In fact, it can be sitting right there at the kitchen table with you.

I’d like to think a lot of the work done in those years has now been picked up by other professionals. The fact there’s now a career for people in succession planning, and that farming families are getting more access to quality information and help. That’s really exciting to me.

What makes good succession planning?

The important thing is communication. Sounds obvious, but it is the most overlooked element.

How do we create the right environment for discussions? How do we ask the questions that matter? How do we really listen to the answers we get to those questions? It’s more critical now, than ever, because both the incoming and the outgoing generations have such different communication styles. It’s a recipe for problems if it isn’t handled well.

Once we resolve those differences, everything else can start to fall into place. It’s understanding the needs, wants, fears and expectations of both parties, and then saying, can we marry these up to some shared values?

If the family hasn’t got their values aligned, or if they’re not communicating well, then it doesn’t matter what solution you come up with on paper, it’s not going to work long term.

Sometimes the best resolution for both the family and the farm business is not having a succession within that family? It’s having another family come in. That can work very well too.

It’s more than a chat and a cuppa. But that’s a good start. 

People are often looking for a silver bullet. It can take a year, or it can take ten years to get everything set up. You can’t do it in 24 hours.

I think it’s going to continue to be an issue because we’re in a period where the pace of change in food and fibre is increasing exponentially – yet succession planning needs time. There’s a conflict there that can be tricky to navigate.

A quick guide to success with succession.

Now this is by no means a definitive guide, but it gives you some idea of what’s involved and roughly, in what order.

  1. What are your goals for the succession (and your retirement for example)?
  2. Ask, who needs to be involved?
  3. Agree on someone to facilitate. There are now professional facilitators out there.
  4. Gather key documents. Like the last few sets of accounts for starters.
  5. Keep lines of communication open between all parties.
  6. Build a clear picture of the 1, 5, 10 year transition path ahead.
  7. Share the emerging plan with all parties.
  8. Keep talking.

Chickens and eggs.

A lack of good succession planning can have a huge impact on animal welfare. It can be where the next generation have not wanted to farm. As a consequence, the current generation can hold on too long, beyond a point where they are physically or mentally capable. The animals suffer.

If we help the farmer, the animals will benefit as well. There’s a big circular picture there, where everything is interrelated. But if we can intervene at various stages, whether it’s through facilitating a transition, or introducing an innovative approach to handling cattle for example, we can improve mental health across the board and improve animal welfare. Or vice versa.

It’s a bit like the chicken and the egg. Is a farm animal welfare issue causing poor mental health, or is poor mental health leading to an animal welfare issue? One can lead into the other.

There’s been a lot of valuable work done highlighting the need for mental health support and services for farmers, which is fantastic. There’s also a group of people that support those farmers that are often also in need. Like vets and consultants to name a few. When we turn up on farm, and if there’s a serious animal welfare issue, we’re impacted by that.

I think the link between farm succession, mental health and animal welfare is an important one. To me it highlights just how interconnected we are to our land and our animals.

When we feel great about our farm and its future, everything else benefits.

Rebecca and Brent Miller: A journey fueled by passion for people

To dairy or not to dairy?

About 15 years ago we found ourselves at a crossroad. There had been several dairy farming positions – small farms, large farms, family and corporate, North Island, South Island, lots of technology and no technology. 

Moving that had taken our small family to the brink of breakdown, loss, and burnout.  From working 2.30am to 7.30pm at night, 28 days on two days off roster, and reactionary circumstances, we decided to sit down, plan and think strategically about where we were going with dairying. 

A big question was: Do we continue down the dairy farming path or look outside and into other industry? Building perhaps?  Rebecca grew up in the dairy industry and had shifted many times with her parents and family and did not want the same unrooted life for our children. 

We both came to the same conclusion after soul searching and knew that our skills and experience was in dairy, and at the heart of it we still saw an opportunity on many levels. 

Reflecting on what we enjoyed, what we would like to achieve in our farming operation, our guiding principles, values and those in our next employer, strategically planning our next move, documenting our negotiables/non-negotiables, researching the industry widely as to who supported, coached, and mentored their staff, where we could learn our identified skill gaps and create a deep foundational knowledge at all levels of the business. 

We wanted to remain confident that there were some amazing employers out there, who were willing to share their knowledge, and who also had similar values and principles.

Finding the right fit

Through deep research across industry, we found the right fit for us – Spectrum Group.  They opened their books and knowledge to us, training, mentoring, support, and confidence when we needed it.
 

They were absentee owners and over the years gave us the inclusion, autonomy, and ability to make strategic, tactical, and operational decisions with their guidance. Quickly realising the opportunity, we knew we could grow our knowledge with the Spectrum Group.

Working with the Spectrum Group for about five seasons, our skills and abilities went far beyond what you would normally obtain in a dairy farming business.Through benchmarking and having the 16 farms analysing and sharing transparent information, the power of knowing our numbers and applying pressure where needed was excellent. It made us very aware of the timing of decisions made, the ability to present a value proposition, calculate the return on investment and communicate this clearly.

We will always be grateful for this foundational knowledge and have added our own flair, learnings, intention, and observations to our business, MilkIQ Limited.

Out in the community

During the time with the Spectrum Group, Rebecca also connected with Dairy Woman’s network.

She started her own group in South Canterbury, growing to 50 ladies, and then to Mid Canterbury to convene for another four years. 

Leading the group was a highlight and gave Rebecca a taste of facilitating and leading groups, but it was a chance to be shoulder tapped for many projects.

One of which has been underpinning a lot of what we strive to achieve within industry today.

The Dairy Fatigue project,

led by Lynda Clark, past DWN CEO.  The primary objective was to discover what the drivers were for long hours on the dairy farm, what were the core reasons, and could we dig deeper than the obvious.  Through the four years on the project, we undertook deep analysing of our on-farm systems, the drivers behind everything we did with our own team – both tangible and intangible.

Today, we use this knowledge and have been able to identify and apply this to get our teams to an average of 41 hours per week.

Doing well by both people and numbers

Our next growth opportunity was when we met with Andrew and Rachele Morris, through a mutual connection, consultant Jeremy Savage. He saw the right fit between what both parties needed and wanted in the future.

Andrew and Rachele, are forward thinking, take care of their people and love to see people grow and succeed. These are values that we also covet, and share, with our staff and community.

In the seven years that we have been with the Morris’s, we have grown from Manager, Contract Milker, Variable Order sharemilker to Equity Partner, and two seasons now running both River Terrace Dairy Limited and Ealing Pasture Holdings Limited, totally 2600 cows in Mid Canterbury.

We learnt that as leaders of the team, the environment we provide on farm is important. It is the behaviour, way we interact, speak, the words we use, the intonation and timing of informal and formal communication, the way decisions are made and by who, are some of the underpinning intangible factors on a high trust, high performing and connected team.

All team members are valued for their skills, expertise, and experience. Everyone has something to bring to the team, and we have found this type of inclusion invaluable in retaining and creating an engaged culture on farm.  Which has also created virtually zero turnover across both farms.
 

We have found knowing our numbers to be an essential part of our story. 

Benchmarking has been a way where we can prove, identify, and clarify our position quickly, then mitigating as we need to.  This has been through MacFarlane Rural business, Dairy Business of the year and DairyBase.  Over two years, we have managed to win eight awards through the Dairy Business of the year and will enter again this year. It has given us confidence and has also given confidence to our partners, Andrew and Rachele as well.

This year also saw Rebecca as a finalist for the Dairy Woman of the Year for recognition of work carried out in industry through Dairy Woman’s Network and DairyNZ – dairy connect, projects, Federated Farmers. Then our own business Milk IQ a finalist in the Ministry of Primary Industry Good Employer Awards, Employee Development award national finalist.

These were amazing to be a part of, and we loved connecting and representing our people, and business at this level.

Adding more layers ...

We created and trademarked the word FARMILY™ to try and capture the community on farm, our farming family, this was quickly recognised around industry, and Rebecca was invited to speak around the country in March with Dairy Woman’s network, Make Time for your People workshop.

Just last week, we were invited to a dinner with MP Meke Whaitiri, to connect with industry.  Being featured also in the American version of Dairy Exporter, Hoards Dairyman, in April 21, was awesome.  We have realised that some of the issues we face in New Zealand, are overseas as well.

Rebecca was in Kellogg course 38 in 2018 and completed her research on “Is there a need for an Information Platform to collaborate Primary Industry events”, – resulting in the development of Land Events limited, which is in its final stages of development.  You will see the framework now online, exciting to finally be at this stage. 

Brent completed his Kellogg project in course 41 in 2020 on “What is the true cost of transience to the New Zealand dairy industry?” This was further investigation on a question we had held for a while, ever since the Dairy Fatigue project with DairyNZ.  He was delighted to find that 78% of turnover can be prevented.

What the future holds?

A vision held dearly is that we have a thriving, connected and collaborative primary industry that is celebrated by everyone, and we are proud to pass onto our next generation.

 

To do this we see ourselves collaborating and creating our way through developing agile tools, while also promoting others in industry.   Farmily™ and MilkIQ Limited and milkiq.online forum is part of our microcosm tools for farming, identifying the tangible and intangible drivers on any sized farm, for direct application. Land Events is a big driver for connection and collaboration of events, jobs, and knowledge at macro level.

Farming Families is developed with rural professionals for our community wellbeing, we are beginning this in Mid Canterbury with two quiz nights and a ball on the 12th of June 2021.  All proceeds are retained within the community for further events to connect.

Talking with Ministry of Primary Industries and other industry organisations now for the development of an Agribase Innovation Centre for the South Island, to have a collaborative home for entrepreneurship, ideas, and think tanks, based in Ashburton.

Brent and Rebecca love what they are doing right now as a team, striking on many fronts.

We are stepping up and into our passion for people and we do so proactively. We continue to move forward for our vision to connect, collaborate, and communicate at all levels within industry. If you have any ideas and want to collaborate with us, please get in contact, we’d love to chat.

Two Kelloggers are finalists for the Fonterra Woman of the Year Award

Belinda Price

Rebecca Miller

We’re very excited for two of our 2018 Kelloggers Belinda Price and Rebecca Miller (along with one other finalist) who were named this month as this year’s finalists for the Fonterra Dairy Woman of the Year award.  Belinda who is a sharemilker based in Whanganui and Rebecca who is a Dairy Farmer from Ashburton are both in the running for the respected industry award managed by the Dairy Women’s Network.

Well done Belinda and Rebecca, and we wish you both well at the Award’s Ceremony on 8th April, when the recipient of the Award will be announced.

Read the full story here:

Fonterra Dairy Woman of the Year finalists focus on supporting other dairy farmers

Developing Whanganui region’s agribusiness sector

From left to right: Colleen Sheldon, Whanganui & Partners, David Eade, 2021 Nuffield Scholar, Andrew Watters, NZ Rural Leaders Chair

Rural Leaders & Whanganui & Partners

developing Whanganui region’s agribusiness sector

NZ Rural Leaders and Whanganui & Partners entered into a multi-year agreement last year to offer scholarships to Whanganui residents who directly contribute to the regions agribusiness sector. To be eligible for a Scholarship, candidates must undertake either a Kellogg Rural Leadership Programme or Nuffield Farming Scholarship.

David Eade, 2021 Nuffield NZ Scholar was selected as the first recipient of a Scholarship.

Read more about our partnership with Whanganui & Partners, and about David Eade in this article on page 10 in the Farmers Weekly virtual newspaper:
https://farmersweekly.co.nz/topic/virtual-publication/view/farmers-weekly-nz-15-02-2021

Open Farms is back and looking for hosts

Strong connections between farmers and urban Kiwis are essential for a thriving agri-sector. The work of farmers should be valued and our customers need to understand what it takes to grow food.

We know that most people are disconnected from their food – so let’s do something about it.

That’s why Rural Leaders is a channel partner of Open Farms – a platform to reconnect urban Kiwis with our food, land and farmers via a nationwide open farm day on Sunday February 21, 2021.

Click through to their Visit a farm page.

We’re supporting Open Farms to find open day hosts, by connecting them with farming leaders like yourself. If you are farming close to urban areas around Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Tauranga and Dunedin and your keen to be an Open Farms host – You can register to host or request a call back on the Open Farms website.

Open Farms is a nationwide initiative to reconnect urban Kiwis with our food, land and farmers.

Few reasons why you should host an Open Farms Day

 

  • In March 2020, 3,500 Kiwis visited 45 farms across New Zealand for the inaugural Open Farms.

  • Your Open Farms event can be as small or as large as you like – farmer hosts choose the size, format and focus of their event.

  • The Open Farms Host Handbook answers all of your questions, including health & safety, activity ideas and tips for using your event to promote a product or diversification. Leave all the marketing and registrations to Open Farms – you just focus on running an event and sharing your farming story.

  • Post event research shows that just getting urban folks on farm, changes the way they think and feel about agriculture, and their own actions in the food system.