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Young potato farmer reaps benefits from farm management scholarship program

February 02, 2015
Young Riverland potato farmer Justin Della Zoppa says he has been reaping the benefits back on the family farm after being awarded a scholarship to attend the Rabobank Farm Managers Program last year.

Mr Della Zoppa was co-sponsored by Potatoes South Australia and Rabobank to undertake the program in 2014.

Designed to strengthen the operational and strategic skills of emerging farmers, the Farm Managers Program is modelled on the highly-respected Rabobank Executive Development Program, a long-standing business development course for leading Australian and New Zealand farmers. Participants take away new skills and techniques with a commercially-driven perspective on farm management to put systems and structures in place to manage growth.

Mr Della Zoppa, 28, says he has developed a “whole new perspective” surrounding farm management since attending the Rabobank program in August last year.

“The program has helped me to view our farm as a business rather than just ‘the farm’,” Mr Della Zoppa says.

“We got to look at all sorts of farming enterprises which really highlighted how a successful farming business should be run. It was inspiring and I have absorbed a lot of useful knowledge about business strategy and management.”

The Della Zoppa family owns and runs Hilltop Produce which turns off between 100-200 acres of potatoes annually. Hilltop Produce has typically grown Nadine and Désirée potatoes, however Mr Della Zoppa says they were undertaking some trials on other varieties to remain open to various markets.

Being a young farmer with plans to eventually run the family business full-time, Mr Della Zoppa says the Farm Managers Program opened his eyes and ears to the concept of succession planning.

“Succession is something we have always known was important to address at some stage but we haven’t been very proactive in actually sitting down and looking at how we want to go about it,” he says.

“Communication and time management around succession planning is essential in order to ‘get ahead’ and I’ve come home from the course with a fresh outlook on how we could be managing our future more proactively.”

Mr Della Zoppa says he has also introduced strategic goal setting and benchmarking plans into the farm business calendar.

“We have started to communicate to our contractors and full-time staff what the goals and objectives are of our business – for example, where we want to be in one, three and five years’ time,” he says.

"This has helped our staff feel more engaged and connected to our business and we’re seeing a positive response.”

Mr Della Zoppa says he has made some valuable contacts with other like-minded farmers who attended the program at the same time. He says this has helped give him a “support network” of other industry contacts to reach out to and share ideas with.

“We can learn a lot from each other and it’s been helpful having that network of other young guys. These friendships and business connections will come in handy in years to come,” he says.

“Even farmers from other industries were able to share insights into their businesses and goals which has given me a few ideas of what we could be doing better back at home.”

2015 marks the 10th year of Rabobank’s Farm Managers Program, with more than 300 young farmers from across Australia and New Zealand graduating from the program since its inception in 2006.

Rabobank state manager for South Australia James Robinson says investing in the next generation of agriculturalists is key when it comes to ensuring the future of the industry.

“While it’s important to invest in your business, it’s also important to invest in your own management skills – these will be very valuable in the long run when it comes to being equipped to manage the cyclical nature of running a farm business,” Mr Robinson says.

“Jointly with Potatoes South Australia, we believe sponsoring a young farmer to attend the Rabobank Farm Managers Program is an excellent way to help the next generation develop and harness their potential. We look forward to helping provide such a unique and beneficial opportunity to up-and-coming farmers who will no doubt benefit in a similar way to Justin.”

Rabobank and Potatoes South Australia are currently seeking nominations for the 2015 Farm Managers Program scholarship. For more information or to nominate for the scholarship, please contact Potatoes South Australia chief executive officer Robbie Davis:

Rabobank Australia & New Zealand is a part of the international Rabobank Group, the world's leading specialist in food and agribusiness banking. Rabobank has more than 115 years' experience providing customised banking and finance solutions to businesses involved in all aspects of food and agribusiness. Rabobank is structured as a cooperative and operates in 41 countries, servicing the needs of approximately 10 million clients worldwide through a network of more than 1600 offices and branches. Rabobank Australia & New Zealand is one of Australasia's leading rural lenders and a significant provider of business and corporate banking and financial services to the region's food and agribusiness sector. The bank has 94 branches throughout Australia and New Zealand.

Media contacts:
Denise Shaw
Media Relations
Rabobank Australia & New Zealand 
Phone: 02 8115 2744 or 0439 603 525 

Jess Webb
Media Relations
Rabobank Australia & New Zealand 
Phone: 07 3115 1832 or 0418 216 103