June 24, 2015
A focus on increasing productivity is already paying dividends for young farmer Tim Wheeler, seeing him take home the prestigious Rabobank Business Development Prize for 2015.
A graduate of the 2014 Rabobank Farm Managers Program, Mr Wheeler, assistant farm manager at ‘Landfall’ an Angus and prime lamb enterprise in Tasmania, was shortlisted to present his project at this year’s program, highlighting the changes he had made to his business as a result of attending the program.
Mr Wheeler received the award at the dinner celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Farm Managers Program in Melbourne in front of the current crop of graduates, industry leaders and senior Rabobank staff. The program caters for progressive young farmers from a range of agricultural sectors from across Australia and New Zealand, providing the opportunity to develop and enhance their business management skills.
Presenting the $2,000 management prize, Rabobank CEO New Zealand Ben Russell said Mr Wheeler had applied the learnings from the program into his business and was seeing tangible results.
Mr Wheeler is responsible for the grazing and animal husbandry of 680 Angus cows and 1500 crossbred ewes at ‘Landfall’, in the Tamar Valley north of Launceston. Farmed by the Archer family for five generations and headed up by Frank and Ed Archer, Landfall is a vertically-integrated farming business supplying prime lamb and Angus beef to their own retail butchery and fresh food business in Launceston.
Mr Wheeler started his apprenticeship at ‘Landfall’ nearly 15 years ago before heading off to Victoria to complete his tertiary studies at the University of Melbourne, Dookie Campus.
Since returning to the business in 2008, Mr Wheeler married Ellie Archer who is in partnership in the family retail butchery, Landfall Farm Fresh with her four siblings.
“Tim’s project was particularly inspired by Neil and Pip Gardyne, a couple from Gore in New Zealand’s South Island, who presented at the program in 2014,” Mr Russell said.
“Their approach to lifting productivity through genetics and pasture management has increased their meat production per hectare by 157 per cent since 1999.
“It is this mixture of real-life case studies and management theories that are presented on the program that help develop the operational and strategic business skills of young farmers. And the Management Project gives them that extra impetus to make real changes in the way they manage their business.”
Mr Wheeler says his project, which focuses on increasing ewe productivity to boost lamb production in Landfall’s White Suffolk flock, was inspired by the Gardynes’ business model and the efficiency of their operation.
“Upon returning home from the program I looked at our own sheep operation, and identified some loopholes in the conception and survival rates of our flock,” Mr Wheeler said.
“Sitting down and collating the reproduction efficiency records of our sheep enterprise, I set targets based on current production performance and industry best practice.
“It was soon apparent that there were some strategies that I could implement to increase the condition of the ewes prior to joining, to increase their conception rate. This has involved scoring the condition of the ewes and splitting them into two mobs based on that score. Any with a score over three have been managed to maintain their live weight, while any under three have been given preferential treatment.”
The ram breeding program has also been examined, says Mr Wheeler, with rams now also selected on birth weight – among other production traits.
The strategies are paying off, with scanning at the end of May showing a 10 per cent increase in the conception rate.
“While we have only adopted these strategies for the current season, we now have a 150 per cent pregnancy scanning rate across our entire ewe flock,” Mr Wheeler said.
They are only part of the way there however, with Mr Wheeler saying the enterprise also needs to boost the survival rate of pregnancies.
“We are aiming for a six per cent increase in the survival rate through careful pasture and fodder management, but we will be able to measure that result when we finish lambing in August,” he said.
“But if that eventuates, we will see an additional 450 lambs produced from our 1500 ewes. And by increasing our productivity per head, we should be in a position to reduce our ewe flock by nearly 20 per cent – and still produce the same number of lambs.
“This will not only assist with the management of our pastures during winter – but will also reduce costs.”
Mr Wheeler says that while his project focused on the production-side of the business, he also drew learnings from the sessions which focused on work-life balance at the Farm Managers Program.
“While equally important but more difficult to measure, the learnings from Petrea King’s workshop around changing unhealthy behaviours, attitudes and stressors to improve productivity and resilience really resonated with me,” he said.
"And while they seem little things, I find that not rushing out the door at the start of the day and actually sitting down and having breakfast, gives me time to process my thoughts and take my full self to the task".
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.
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