Beef 2024 Preview

Beef Connections member’s journey towards Beef 2024: Riverina family enterprises inspire

Beef Central, 03/12/2023

THE Graeme Acton Beef Connections mentoring project being held in the lead-up to Beef 2024 in Rockhampton next May is now well underway, and as part of that process, Beef Central is following the journey of one of the ten talented young industry stakeholders taking part.


Using a monthly diary format, South Australia’s Phoebe Eckermann* is outlining her experiences and learnings as part of the program.

Over the next four months, she will share her journey towards executing her chosen Beef Connections project, culminating with a presentation in Rockhampton along with her mentee cohort.

Links to her earlier diary entries can be found at the base of this page ….



Connections mentees workshopping Phoebe’s Build Your Better Beef concept during their visit to the Southern Riverina. See details below

NOVEMBER began with the second Beef Connections mentee meetup. And what an incredible four days we had in the Southern Riverina of NSW.

It was truly inspiring to immerse myself in the operations of two remarkable family enterprises: Rennylea Angus at Culcairn and Commins Enterprises at Whitton. These businesses beautifully showcase how families can collaborate to build thriving businesses, no matter how many generations they’ve been in business.

Throughout the trip, numerous stories were shared, illustrating how courage, strong relationships, and unwavering integrity pave the path to success. It was a journey brimming with memorable moments, and I can’t wait to share the highlights with you.

A turbulent start

Tuesday October 31 – Fellow mentee Liam Cameron and I set off from Adelaide en route for Albury. With a few delays due to windy weather in Sydney, we made it mid arvo only just behind schedule.

We were met by fellow mentees Isobel Heffernan and Amy Wicks who drove down however, the remainder of the group didn’t make it in time for our opening dinner. The wild weather in Sydney delayed mentees Lauren Angus, Emily McNair, Xavier McCluskey, Georgia Dale, Jean Liebenberg, Lachlan Smith and facilitators Jo Eady and Wendy Agar.

After many hours and flights, the crew arrived in Albury at midnight and unfortunately, a little lighter on luggage with four bags lost in transit. Despite the setbacks, it was a relief to see everyone eventually arrive. Exhausted, we headed straight to bed, preparing for the eventful three days ahead. What I learnt for this unfortunate event – always pack a toothbrush in carry-on and expect the unexpected!

Rennylea Angus: A Family’s Journey of Innovation and Success

The next day, we boarded a bus bound for Culcairn NSW. Here the Corrigan family welcomed us into their beef enterprise Rennylea Angus.

Bryan Corrigan told us the Rennylea story: a story of a change, innovation, and growth. At the beginning the changing of their breeding objective was critical to success. The focus on traits drove profit in the beef industry, fertility, growth, and meat quality.

The Corrigan’s weren’t afraid to do things differently; despite scepticism from some agents, they were the first stud to present their bulls via video for auction rather than running each through the sale ring. A practice that just “made sense” for them.  With animal welfare at the fore today this is much more commonplace at sales across Australia.

It was an inspiring story about how investing in innovation saw the family run operation grow from selling 20 bulls to 200+ bulls per year. Bryan’s focus on the client and supplying the commercial industry shone through; and the support of his family with his daughter Ruth Corrigan, son Anthony and wife Lucinda all integral parts of the thriving business today.

Ruth Corrigan then openly shared insights into the Rennylea operation, where values of teamwork, integrity, innovation, and animal welfare took centre stage. Anthony, an excellent guide, walked us through some bulls during morning tea and showed us through their efficient cow herd. It was clear to see their investment in genetics paying off with a consistent line of bulls produced and strong fertile female lines on display.

Claire Scott told of her incredible journey – from a 12-head beef farm in Ireland, vet nursing, working in the mines, managing a feedlot in WA to becoming the bull manager at Rennylea – highlighting the power of seizing opportunities and building a career in the beef industry through diverse experiences. A fabulous future story for my Build Your Beef series.

Lucinda Corrigan concluded the day by sharing insights into their environmental goals and sustainable focus, embodying inclusive, caring, organised, passionate, influential, and strong leadership qualities throughout the session. The visit exemplified a family united to lead a highly successful enterprise – a journey reliant on open discussions, proper planning, and ensuring everyone is aligned to implement the vision ahead. The visit ended with a lovely steak lunch and enriching conversations.  None of us wanted to leave.

Rennylea was a definite highlight for me – an inspiring family enterprise built on integrity, innovation, and collaboration.

Cattle handling facilities at Rennylea

Rest Stop with Reward

From Rennylea we headed toward Whitton, NSW and along the way stopped for a rest in Lockhart, NSW. We were joined for a cuppa in the park with Claudia Mitchell managing director of The Capacity Co. Claudia shared insights from her work, emphasising that while farming professionals excel in technical expertise within their field, many benefit from development of people management skills.

She stressed the significance of communication, introducing us to various communication styles, particularly the DISC communication approach. Throughout our journey, the importance of effective communication in business was repeatedly highlighted. This was eye-opening for me – it’s the first time I’ve encountered this concept, and it has already enhanced my understanding of others.

I realised that understanding your own communication style is the initial step towards improving interactions with others – I’m looking forward to exploring this more with my mentor in our next session!

Whitton Truly Wows

From Lockhart we continued en route for Whitton. We were in the heart of the Murrumbidgee irrigation area, a premier food bowl of Australia. Passing cereal crops, sheep, cattle, silos, chicken sheds, vineyards, fruits trees and then the Whitton Malthouse appeared. An amazing facility with beautifully sculptured gardens centred around its own lake full of Murray Cod. With one full day left this was our final stop for the trip. We stayed on the lake in the stunning villas.

Whitton Malthouse had the wow factor – worth a visit for sure!

Commins Enterprises: A Daring Tale of Diversification and Relationship-Building

The next morning, we met Roger Commins and daughter Kaitlin Leonard.  They are the visionaries behind and owners of the Whitton Malthouse and many more thriving enterprises in the area.

What a courageous story of risk, and relationships that Roger told us. You could hear a pin drop.  Along with his brother Tim and their wives, Roger worked to develop their farming business growing cereal and seed crops. Roger also kept his eye on the farming area around him and saw vineyards popping up all over the region. With this came a need for storage facilities; producers had the bulk wine, but nowhere to store it.

The Commins brothers set out to solve this and begun to ring wine tank manufacturers. And with everyone they rang the got the same response; a two-year waiting list on tanks. This didn’t stop them; the only way was to build them themselves. What a courageous move, and as Roger said, we had to “get out of there comfort zone of being only farmers”.

Together and with the support from their families the brothers built a stainless steel and wine tank manufacturing business. And this is just the beginning of their diversification!

The steel manufacturing business opened an opportunity to build storage for fertiliser. The Commins’ created a fertiliser storage site on their farm which was eventually brought by Yara Australia. No matter who they partnered with, Roger stressed the importance of developing robust shareholder agreements.

Cereal and seed crops, steel, wine, fertiliser – enough risks for a person, right? Not for the Commins’.  The next challenge to conquer: building a cotton gin in 12 months – this would be a world-first with this construction usually taking two years to complete. Roger and five other cotton growers set out on this challenge together.

Funding was a major hurdle with banks not keen to invest. Still, they didn’t give up. They managed to do a world first building a cotton gin in 13 months and processed 180,000 bales in their first year. Throughout the story Roger empathised the importance of relationships, developing trust with people, following through on your word, and building knowledge by reaching out to others.

Roger and Kaitlin toured us through their enterprises, steel tank manufacturing, eucalyptus plantations, fertiliser storage, wine storage, Murray Cod, cotton ginning, whiskey brewing, and tourism. Roger’s mind switched through the tour talking about one operation to the next seamlessly.

The cotton gin and Aquna Murray Cod were highlights, with many of us never seeing these operations before. It was an inspiring sight being toured through so many different operations all in the same area – Diversification goals! Again, another family showing that when communication, integrity and relationships are a focus together success can be achieved.

Murray cod ponds on Commins Enterprises’ diversified agribusiness in the Riverina

Roles Reverse

Later that afternoon, we ten mentees became the facilitators – each of us was given an eight-minute challenge to gain feedback to support our projects and practise facilitation.  Everyone stepped up to the plate. It was a great snippet into what everyone’s up to in their projects.

I loved learning more about Isobel Heffernan’s project and seeing her survey for NT producers come to life and enable her to collect data for the NT Cattleman’s Association. Discussion on sustainability with Georgia Dale, embryo technology with Emily McNair and vaccination with Liam Cameron generated some fantastic ideas. The change of direction that Lachie Smith and Jean Liebenberg’s projects have taken really excite me as they are both now looking at education. Lachie’s focus is on graduate programs in the beef industry and Jean is looking at how we can equip people with the skills for beef industry careers. It was enjoyable collaborating to assist Amy Wicks with her SWOT and Xavier McCluskey generate ideas for his Ag education project.

I loved launching my project Build Your Beef Future to everyone and getting their feedback (see picture at top of page). The fast flow of ideas and collaboration of this task was awesome. Look out next month I’m hoping to provide you some more details on everyone’s projects.

Murray Cod on Menu

The incredible team at the Whitton Malthouse restaurant opened to serve us dinner on our final night – and what a fabulous meal it was. The paddock-to-plate, or pond-to-plate in this case, came alive as we savoured the exquisite Murray cod.

This dinner was a great time to reflect on the previous few days before we all departed for home the following morning. We all shared one word to sum up our experience in southern NSW, here’s what people shared – Integrity, love, inspiring, honoured, bold, diversity, family, wisdom, daunting and opportunity.

What an exceptional four days we had! I’ve returned home inspired by my experiences at Rennylea Angus and Commins Enterprises and the showcase of how families working together towards shared vision can forge a path to success.

Loved the communication workshops with Jo Eady and learning from each other’s projects was amazing. Hope you enjoyed hearing all about the second meet up!


Enjoy the festive season and we’ll talk next year (that’s crazy to say!)

In the meantime, you can follow along with my Build Your Beef Future project on Instagram and Facebook @buildyourbeeffuture

Talk in 2024,





Phoebe’s previous diary entries

November 2023: The power of collaboration, opportunities and preparation

October 2023: Being, Balancing and Building Brilliance

September 2023: Meeting our mentors 

August 2023: Our journey begins


* Diarist Phoebe Eckerman is a research officer with the University of Adelaide, and one of ten 2023/24 Graeme Acton Connections Program mentees. Phoebe’s project vision is to create a web-based resource where people can explore the endless career pathways available in the modern beef industry. She has been engaged with the beef industry since her early teen years, having established her own Limousin stud and shown cattle, winning championships at the Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne Royal Shows.






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