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People and data support business decisions

10 July 2024

Dr Penny Schulz is a woman of many talents: producer, livestock consultant, lecturer and adoption specialist with the University of Adelaide’s SA Drought Hub department.

Here, she shares her advice on how to make decisions which stand up to the pressures and volatility which go hand-in-hand with life on the land.

People power

Penny and her husband Jason run a well-established operation in SA’s Limestone Coast region. Supporting her on-ground knowledge is broad industry involvement and experience which has led Penny to embrace the value of a team approach.

“Getting a good team of people around you in farming seems to be the key to helping you ride out those tough years,” Penny said.

Drawing from the experience and support of their local livestock benchmarking group and farm advisor has been a game changer for Penny and Jason’s on-farm decision making.

“We learn just as much from other participants as from the group facilitator and the data gurus. Plus, our fellow producers keep us accountable and motivated,” she said.

“Discussions with other producers about where they’re going to invest their money in a tough year or what their plans are for buying or selling stock are mutually beneficial, but there needs to be trust involved and openness needs to go both ways.”

The couple also meets with their farm advisor several times a year to plan, review, budget and set goals.

“These networks are invaluable when considering an enterprise change, land purchase, or how to strategically use our funds during tough market or seasonal conditions, like we’ve experienced recently,” Penny said.

Technology and training

Embracing technology and boosting business skills are also key to building business resilience.

Penny said using technology to collect and analyse on-farm data and then filter it through a logical decision-making framework can reduce stress.

Good decision-making processes should be able to work for a good, tough or average year. It’s also important producers come up with tactics to make the most of opportunities in those good years,” Penny said.

When it comes to business skills, Penny admits she’s never met a producer who went into farming because they love finances or bookkeeping – but she’s seen many learn to love it.

“You need to be able to do more than just enough bookwork to keep your accountant happy. Knowing your cost of production, debt servicing costs, the usual price for your product and return on assets are just a few benefits.”

“Make technology your friend to access pasture assessments, make record keeping easier for Livestock Production Assurance requirements, monitor water remotely and to utilise precision livestock management tools.”

Planning ahead

Once you have data, forward planning can mean you’re not having to make decisions under pressure.

Penny has found Cam Nicholson’s (Nicon Rural Services) decision-making matrix very useful, particularly when times are tough. They use it for important decisions like buying or selling stock, containment feeding ewes and fodder conservation.

“Spending a couple of hours developing a decision-making spreadsheet will save time and give you greater confidence in your decisions going forward,” she said.

“It will help identify the critical factors and pieces of information you need each time you make those decisions, so you know your farm’s tipping points – that’s why knowing your numbers and having the right technology is so valuable.”