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Wardy - 20 Years Consulting

As at January 2021, it seems the consensus among my client base and consultants in our team so far is “where’s Wardy? And what have you done with him?”

I'm David Ward, Management Consultant and I can answer that by saying that as at 21st January, I have so far seen 20 clients. On my way home that Friday, I called into the Mundaring office and was able to say

“I think this past week, but also this review season, has to have been one of the best of my 21 years of doing this.”

There have been some disappointments, but even those were nowhere near as bad as what we had estimated in September they were going to be . After getting many ‘we’ll all be doomed’ calls, it now seems ‘it was a mild finish’.

Laurence Carslake made it a little clearer to me recently when he said that ‘terminal drought is 37°C’. I am pretty sure it must have felt like that some days to some people and there has never been more relief felt than when you got into your headers and the deliveries started adding up.

Having said that, I do have some clients with such a good start, that ‘if we only had 15mm to 20mm in September what could have been' and on that I agree. But the results they have achieved have still been phenomenal.

Rather than focus on individual outcomes, I wanted to write about how things have ‘turned around’ for some people, or ‘how lucky some others have been’.

Put simply, this has not just happened overnight or over one season. Farmanco and its consultants have been very strong on working with our clients to analyse their businesses and provide them with valuable feedback against sound benchmarks, which aim to develop strategies to move them forward.

As a consultant, I can look back at the past 21 years and fully understand why some people think I have changed. It is because I have, as have all the clients I have worked with. We are all better at what we do. Well, I think we are 😊.

My first review season when I joined Farmanco was in 2000, with Lisa Featherby. Our long-term clients will know just how conservative she was. With me coming from a finance background, I could not have had a better mentor given her knowledge and experience in working with clients in the low and medium rainfall zones.

The focus was on managing costs, concentrating on getting timing right and to keep communicating if things got a little hard. They were valuable lessons, we as consultants and you as our clients are continuingly educating each other. Challenging each other is what it is about.

Through the 10 years to 2010, we basically went “year in year out” good year, bad year. We also had a period of very high input prices and low commodity prices. Part of this led to keeping costs down by lowering Phosphate rates and using our P bank. Production wise, we were seeing greater variability in rainfall and lower yields. This led to times, where I would often be quoted as saying ‘I would rather budget lime and lower fertiliser rates, so long as we tested and were not limiting potential'.

Through this period, I was absolutely ‘Mr lupin hater’. For me it was simply about ongoing losses in break crops where we were failing to control weeds. I always felt the same about canola and with prices through this period at $200/t to $250/t for lupins and $350/t for canola, we simply did not have the varieties or pricing to keep them viable.

Through 2010 to now, many of the clients that began liming in the prior 10-year period were seeing improvements in water use efficiency. They were seeing it because we were measuring it and discussing it. There were plans made to test more, to understand more about our soils and their limiting factors.

Soil amelioration over the last 10 to 15 years has evolved beyond liming and deep ripping. The critical part is to know what you are correcting and how to do it the right way. This in combination with precision agriculture technology and tramline farming will see continued improvements in water use efficiency.

The advent of new varieties for cereals and canola and better prices for lupins and canola has meant that through the later part of the last decade, these parts of the rotations were profitable. We had good options for weed control in both and when GM canola was available in Australia, we were given a new string to our Integrated Weed Management systems.

Enter the era of seed destruction and it is clear that the early adopters who ‘not without significant investment in time and patience’ have benefited at harvest from this additional weed control . With ongoing improvement in reliability in this technology and at the current rate of adoption, these machines are part of most modern farmers strategies over the next five years.

I nearly forgot the lupins. I always argued that if you could give me a lupin that would go better than 1.4t/ha, sell for $350/t plus, and we could kill the weeds, they would be back. Along came Jurien and an appropriate agronomy package.

All through this period, our clients have sought advice to understand where they are at. They have planned, they have tested, and they have made improvements. With ever increasing scale in operations, we are upgrading machinery and are well positioned to replace it. Lower interest rates or taxation benefits are helping us to do these things at a lower opportunity cost than ever before.

For some, improving productive capacity has meant selling where they were and completely relocating. Many have bought the farm next door, or the ones they have been leasing. For others, it has been to improve the soils they are on, improve production at home and then to expand.

The success of those decisions has not been without a lot of hard work and dedication from every member of the faming business team.

So, my summary for 2020 is to acknowledge the businesses that we work with and how we can all be influenced by each other. Yep, I have changed.


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