A keen thirst for knowledge is key to success
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A keen thirst for knowledge is key to success – Erin and Peter Draper

Category Business Management Programs

Peter and Erin Draper

Embarking on their future together growing rice in the Leeton region during the late 70’s, Peter and Erin Draper’s goals were simple – to eventually own their own farm, with a nice house for Erin to share with their family.

It’s a particularly modest outlook considering the couple, now in their early 60s, were recently named the 2020 SunRice Grower of the Year, having established themselves as one of Australia’s most innovative – and successful – rice growers.

Attributing much of their success to a keen thirst for knowledge – the Draper’s regularly attend conferences, workshops and farm tours to remain abreast of current learnings. Such is their dedication, one per cent of annual earnings is earmarked for various upskilling opportunities.

However among Peter’s extensive – and impressive – list of educational accomplishments, this Nuffield scholar and graduate of the Australian Rural Leadership Program rates Rabobank’s Executive Development Program as having had the greatest influence on their farm management.

A 2013/14 graduate – with Erin following suite in 2018/19 – Peter is firm in his belief that the business plan developed through the program has been the catalyst for their success over the past decade.

“Our net worth has increased significantly in the past ten years, underpinned by an effective business plan developed during the Rabobank course,” Peter said. “I’ve always been pretty good on strategy, and Erin is the communicator in the family so while we often talked about our goals, physically putting them on paper gave us a defined roadmap to work towards, and a visual picture of what we wanted to achieve.”

Recognising the benefits Peter gained, Erin, having ‘lived and breathed education’ as a teacher and librarian at Yanco Agricultural High School, didn’t hesitate to enrol in the Rabobank Business Management Program immediately upon her retirement, with the view to becoming more involved in the farm business.

“My strengths definitely lie in the humanities – maths, science and numbers are not my forte, and while Peter and I have always played to our talents, you can’t afford to neglect all the required aspects necessary for an efficient operation.”

And while the program provided her with the financial skills to confidently manage the business, it also helped her developed a strategy for the future.

With Peter’s focus revolving largely around business management and growth, Erin had become increasingly nervous about the next stage - with two children pursuing off-farm careers she said succession could not be planned for in the traditional sense.

“Although we’re only in our early 60s we needed an exit strategy, a business model that we could adapt to our stage, rather than our age, and provide flexibility while ensuring we were still challenged.”

With his father now 96 with a keen interest in farming, Peter said the couple had no plans to retire, but wanted a plan to ensure they could remain on the farm, without being tied to it.

“Our business growth has been based on replication in the form of purchasing additional irrigation properties, however as we age we don’t want to be taking on more work – rather our aim is to use what we have more efficiently,” Erin said.

When making decisions now, and for the future, the couple’s individual learnings from the Business Management Program proved complementary, the strategies and processes combined strengthening to business enormously.

“Certainly when developing strategy for the future Peter’s business plan was hugely beneficial to me, and vice-versa. Now we have a clearly defined path and Peter is able to integrate new technology and innovation into our business plan that will benefit two-fold – increasing efficiencies now for a stronger business, and providing greater flexibility as we get older,” Erin said.

Peter and Erin Draper

The adoption of new technology has been key to the Draper’s success, and the recent implementation of automated irrigation affords them even further flexibility to visit their son in Cairns or daughter in Broome.

“We now have a business strategy and structures in place whereby we can remain in our house, on the farm – where our children grew up and still love to visit – until we’re in wheelchairs if we like. We will be able to come and go without the demanding physical requirements, and still be financially supported by our land,” Peter said.

A loyal and capable employee has also been part of the couple’s exit strategy, identified as a further critical contributor to their success.

And the couple will also soon hire a new trainee, inspired as much by the opportunity to give a young person a foothold in the industry, as to provide further options if the Drapers do ever decide to retire.

Armed with a solid business plan and strong vision for the future, the couple agree the course has given them the confidence to enjoy their business and success, and remain passionate and engaged in the industry.

While both laugh that they were the ‘senior citizens’ of the BMP, Peter is quick to acknowledge the mutual benefits of the broad scale of participants.

“I have experience which young ones can gain from, and they have energy and new ideas that always inspire me and keep me excited for the future, the program provided a great network to bouncing ideas off, which we both still do from time to time.”

And while the Drapers may laugh at their age comparatively, it’s proven no hindrance to progression.

Owning and operating 678 hectares, and share farming 355 hectares of irrigation, the couple has recently undertaken redevelopments to drastically reduce their number of rice bays with a rollover bankless system, allowing for run lengths of over one kilometre, creating machinery efficiencies.

Developments such as this earnt the Drapers the SunRice Grower of the Year - the ultimate award that also recognises new technology, sustainability, adoption of the latest research, and best management practices.

Their innovative approach to farming and a commitment to ongoing learning, for themselves and their employees, caught the judges’ attention, with the strength of Peter’s business plan developed during the EDP identified as a major strength.

With Peter openly acknowledging the EDP and its consequent business plan has had the greatest impact on his farm business, Erin said it’s rare praise that demands kudos.

“Peter’s tertiary educated in agricultural science, a graduate of the Australian Rural Leadership course, and a Nuffield Scholar – so when he says Rabobank’s program is one of the best, he doesn’t say it lightly – it’s a valuable testament that he whole-heartedly believes,” Erin said. 

To find out more about the Rabobank Business Management Programs click here

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