Farming: the future is bright says Chris Morrison
Farming is always a challenging business, but Chris Morrison’s new book Thrive: How to succeed as a young aspiring farmer aims to give new and established farmers a practical guide on how to successfully start, maintain and grow their agriculture business.
Chris is a local horse-breeder and business coach. From a strong farming background, Christ spent 16 years teaching at the Orange Agricultural College and has acted as a consultant to some of the largest agricultural companies in Australia as well as emerging small local businesses and farming operations.
Orange City Life caught up with Chris ahead of the launch of his new book to talk the future of farming and why today, more than ever, it’s vital that farmers increase their business knowledge to ensure they succeed in agriculture.
Hi Chris, thanks for speaking with us. So, tell us a bit about how your new book came about?
I've been writing the book for about two-and-a-half years and it came off the back of a program that I am running with the Department of Primary Industry (DPI), which was to incentivise or encourage young people to stay in farming. Kids were leaving farming in large numbers and so, with the DPI, we are educating young farmers about how to set up profitable businesses. Then I thought a book was a really good way to get that message out there.
Farming businesses vary so much, but are their common themes in your book that are applicable to all sorts of primary industry businesses?
Absolutely, I would even go a bit further to say that, although I am targeting farmers, I think any small business owner could read this book and apply the same principals to their business. This book is really about getting yourself right, about positioning yourself to be the best possible business person you can be in your chosen industry. This book is about farming, but it is really about the way that you set yourself up to be successful and so it applies to people in general who are not interested in being employees but business owners.
Are there many other people writing specifically for young famers?
Surprisingly, no. There is one fellow I'm aware of, in New Zealand, writing in the same genre, but not really. When I've been talking to people, they have said it would be really good to have some specific books that are Australian based… and there will be more to come.
More books to come?
I’ve planned this book to be one of three in a series, but my intention is to write continuously over the next 10 to 15 years.
What would you say is the most important piece of advice you give young farmers?
That you shouldn’t be doing anything in your business that is costing you money, not making you money. It’s about being very diligent, knowing your input costs and also trying to value-add to whatever you are doing in your enterprise rather than sell it in the bulk commodity market. Farmers, unfortunately, have always been pretty much price takers and I think the opportunity now exists for them to invest in other aspects of agriculture, which give them more control of what happens with their product.
Can you give an example of a farming business taking up that opportunity?
A good example would be the Little Big Dairy Co. in Dubbo. The family wasn't happy with the amount of money they were being paid by the processors for milk, so they decided to do their own processing and their own distribution and to market it into the local area and they have a massive niche following. Everyone else is talking about farmers not surviving on the price of milk per litre that the supermarkets are paying them; this family have actually gone out and created their own market and taken control of the whole production right through to distribution.
Is there something about farming today, that you believe requires a different approach to say 20 or 40 years ago?
I say a few things in the book that are pretty controversial, and one is that if farming had been in the hands of women for the last 150 years it would be a very different industry. I am quite pointed in saying that the mindset of men is something that needs to change and some of the core beliefs that farmers have had — and have served them reasonably well — need to change. It is about being more willing to put your hand up to ask for help in business and not just lightly believe the information and knowledge that we've inherited from the previous generations. The world is changing at a pretty rapid rate and with the advance of information and with technology I think farming is going to be very, very different moving forward.
There seems to be a bit of doom and gloom around farming during this current drought. Is that deterring young people from getting into the industry?
A lot of farmers are not very impressed with the media coverage they've been getting throughout the drought, because it has made them look like weak and vulnerable businesses. But that’s not the case with lots of farmers who are really, really excellent at what they do. While they are still enduring a very tough time, their businesses are not in a state of desperation. Really good business people know how to hunker down and to survive the drought and some of the young farmers I'm coaching, they're welcoming the drought as a unique opportunity to learn how to survive and cope in one of the toughest times possible.
What are some of the big changes you see ahead for farming in Australia?
The biggest challenge, the biggest barrier for entry, is capital. Unlike other small businesses, we've always thought you have to raise the capital to buy the land to run a farm. I think farming is changing so much that you could be a farmer without owning land, but that is a very, very big shift in mindset. But if I use an example in manufacturing, not all manufacturing businesses own the factory; they rent it or lease it off an investor who owns it. With farms being bought out by superannuation funds and mining companies, I think a lot more farms will come onto the market for lease.
Do you believe there is a strong future for Australian agriculture?
The demand is simply going to increase, because of the expected human growth in population. I mean, people are predicting out to 2050 that, with the expansion of the world population, we will be really under pressure to produce enough food and fibre to feed and clothe people. That need is never going to diminish, so it is a great environment to be in. Our products are always going to be needed by people.
Chris’ new book Thrive: How to succeed as a young aspiring farmer is due to be launched in Orange in March.