By Robbie Sefton
Farming has become an immensely complicated and information-intense occupation, to the degree that some farmers have begun borrowing a centuries old strategy from corporations to support their business.
For more than 500 years, corporations have outsourced some of their intelligence gathering and decision-making to boards of directors.
Faced with an avalanche of information, bureaucracy and complex market conditions, some farmers have begun to do the same. The members of a farmer’s board may not be strictly directors, in the sense of company directors, but they broaden the intelligence behind the farm operation, and bring different perspectives to aid decision-making.
Farm boards are not just for big farms. During the MLA Challenge, in which six farming families across Australia were supported to bootstrap their businesses into new levels of profitability and efficiency within 12 months, boards proved a powerful tool for farms of all sizes.
A farm’s board is formed according to the nature of the business and the existing capabilities of those who run the farm on a daily basis.
The sort of people a board needs also depends on how the farm’s primary decision-maker arrives at decisions. Do they, in the taxonomy devised by farm consultant Cam Nicolson, make decisions based on “head, heart or gut”? The board needs to represent the other types of decision makers, to ensure problems are approached from different angles and the board doesn’t fall into the trap of groupthink.
A farm board might be just the farm’s existing ecosystem of professionals — accountants, lawyers, agents — periodically brought together to review the enterprise and offer advice.
The Harvard Business Review analysis “Building Better Boards” proposes that the best boards are carefully built, starting with an analysis of weakness in the business’s intelligence and governance. That review suggests the sort of people who need to be on the board: the next step is not only finding people with those skills, but people able to work together in concert.
“The high-performance board, like the high-performance team, is competent, coordinated, collegial, and focused on an unambiguous goal,” the HBR review says. “Such entities do not simply evolve; they must be constructed to an exacting blueprint.”
Over the next decade, and beyond, farming will be massively disrupted by automation and other technologies. Growing nationalism around the world may also disrupt our all-important export markets in ways we cannot yet foresee.
One farmer, or even a family of farmers, will find it increasingly difficult to deal with the breadth of knowledge required to navigate this changing landscape, or make informed decisions while they deal with the practicalities of daily farming life.
A board is a time-proven way of bringing new brains to bear on a complex business environment. It may be time for the farm board to become commonplace, rather than a rarity.
This article was published in The Land newspaper on Thursday 15 March, 2018. Link to the article can be found here: http://www.theland.com.au/story/5280736/its-time-to-create-family-farm-boards/?cs=4763
Robbie Sefton has a dual investment in rural Australia as a farmer, producing wool, meat and grains and as managing director of national marketing communications company Seftons.