Riley represents the next gen of agri leaders
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Riley represents the next gen of agri leaders

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Riley Nichols - Innovation Generation Rabobank

They’re hungry for opportunity with an appetite for innovation, and 27-year-old Riley Nichols exemplifies an exciting next generation of the Australian agri industry. 

Riley, a Rabobank rural manager, was just one of 200 attendees at this year’s Innovation Generation, a grains focussed conference for 18 to 35-year-olds held recently in Adelaide, and said it was a terrific opportunity for younger industry participants to gather, share knowledge and ideas for a strong future.

“I had heard how excellent the event was last year so was very keen to go, and was lucky enough to be one of the WA young managers to go, along with Dan Cransberg out of Perth, Matt Hudson out of Moora and Nic Mihura out of Geraldton.”

And this year’s Innovation Generation certainly didn’t disappoint, with the event a valuable platform for networking with other like-minded young farmers and industry professionals from across Australia.

While many aspects of the industry were covered over the three day conference, which this year explored the theme ‘Driving Forward: Looking At Where Australian Ag Is Headed And What’s Steering This Innovation’.

“One of the key messages was embracing technology,” Riley explained. “I was particularly fascinated by the first presenter, Steve Sammartino, Australia’s leading futurist who spoke about how Artificial Intelligence could benefit rural businesses going forward – it really did give everyone plenty of food for thought.”

Technological advancements in regards to machinery was also discussed heavily, with Riley also impressed by a panel discussion revolving around Machinery of the Future, featuring Sandra Lau, Ben Kelly, Cassian Drew and Zach Whale.

“The reality of electric and hydrogen powered vehicles – eventually including tractors and headers – was a really interesting space to explore.”

Scaddan grain grower and 2022 Australian Young Farmer of the Year Brad Egan was also a key note speaker, talking about how he had improved productivity across his variable soils.

“I’ve heard Brad speak a couple of times, including at our Rabobank Farm2Form Summit, and what he does with soil amelioration is incredible - his story is always fascinating and I get something different out of it every time.”

“The fact that a young farmer like Brad had the confidence and vision to put numbers against his gut feel and use data-based evidence to back up what he was doing was really inspiring, and I think provoked a lot of thought within the audience.”

Rabobank supporting a strong ag future

With Rabobank a key sponsor of the event, Riley said he was proud to represent the bank – and the future of agribusiness banking.

“It’s so heartening that Rabobank is so clearly committed to supporting the next generation – in the next 15 to 20 years these will be the people who will be running Australia’s farm businesses, and building these relationships today highlights our long-term commitment to the industry, and is valuable for clients and rural managers like myself, alike.”

And while they’re the faces of the future, working with the younger farmers on the ground today is an opportunity Riley welcomes.

“From a business development perspective it’s really exciting to be partnering with my generation, they have an appetite for change, technology and sustainable farming and as a Rabobank rural manager it’s so rewarding to be supporting their ideas and vision – and these are the sort of events that really inspire and provoke thought.”

He believed the fact that the majority of Innovation Generation participants were from interstate spoke volumes.

“I know how busy farmers are, and to take time out of their busy schedules, and pay good money to attend really reinforces how engaged this next generation is.”

“Our young farmers are hungry for knowledge to improve in any way they can, or for some it’s simply about networking, or sitting and listening for some take-away they may not have considered before.”

“I think the fact that there were 40 participants from WA alone – given the distance and cost – is a huge endorsement to the event and how much value it adds.”

Back to his rural roots with Rabobank

Riley spent his childhood years in WA’s wheatbelt community of Beverley, however moved at the age of 11.

He admits that he didn’t initially have a strong calling to return to the regions, but an opportunity to work for Rabobank in Narrogin “got the gears clicking over in my mind”.  

“The more I thought about it, the keener I was to do it,” he explained. ”I’d completed a Bachelor of Commerce majoring in Finance and Economics with the view to keep as many doors open to help identify a pathway that appealed, and by the end of my course, I knew banking was my preferred career path.”

“I know people without an ag background can have their blinkers on a bit, and wouldn’t even consider a move to the country, their pathway is set, but I was happy to think a bit differently as to how I was going to break into the job market.”

“Now I’m a huge advocate for everyone – even city people who have no connection to the country – to recognise the opportunities that the regions afford is just so valuable.”

Riley moved to Narrogin – a town in which he knew no one – and commenced his role as a rural officer in 2021.

“I can confidently say it was 100 percent the correct decision, I’m happy to move around a bit for the diversity of experiences, and I think once you have that initial rural experience as I did in my youth, when you return to the bush it reignites those feelings pretty quickly.”

A friendly wave with clients down street, or chatting to them in the supermarket car park are just some of the aspects of living in a small community that Riley loves, as is supporting them on their business journey.

“A highlight is when you do something for a client, such as a farm purchase, and you’ve been through all the emotions and the paperwork of the purchase process with them – and then when you get to actually drive across the farm and see it in the flesh, that’s a nice feeling. This is the unique perspective we get to enjoy thanks to the fact our boots are on the ground, you really feel like you’ve added value to the client and enhanced their business.”

The difference with Rabobank, Riley believes, is its genuine relationship-based model.

“You really see the human side of banking, we’re not just increasing limits and seeing numbers on a screen go up, we’re making a real difference to people, and their business, and that human element is what I love about the role.”

Progressing a career, and purpose

Beginning his post-university career as rural officer, over the past 12 months Riley has had the opportunity to further develop his skills thanks to a maternity leave managers role in Lake Grace.

And he has recently enjoyed further career progression, announced as a permanent Rabobank rural manager based in Perth.

Riley Nichols - Innovation Generation Rabobank
Rabobank’s Will Dufty and Riley Nichols at this year’s Innovation Generation conference.

“I really loved my old portfolio, but the beauty of working with an organisation like Rabo is that there is so much scope for growth and career development, when you start at an entry level, I guess you know you’ll eventually have to say goodbye.”

While he’ll miss seeing his clients out and about in the Narrogin and Lake Grace communities, and his two minute commute to work, he’s looking forward to being closer to loved ones and family in Perth.

“I’m excited to be working with a new client base, mainly in sheep and cropping like previously, but with some added diversity including orchards, poultry broilers and cattle.”

“It’s a different area than I’m used to – higher rainfall, higher value land so the numbers are a bit bigger in dollars terms, and number of hectares a bit smaller!”

As a next gen young professional, he believes he’s gained lifelong value from his entry role in Narrogin, and that the relationships he’s made will hopefully pay dividends in years to come.

“In my new role I’m actually covering the Beverley district where I grew up, and even went to primary school with one of my clients – I know first-hand that there’s less than six degrees of separation within the Australian ag industry, which makes it feel really welcoming and united, and I know that the relationships, and friendships, I’m building today will serve me well for many decades to come.”