CARRYING a legacy steeped in Australian pastoral history, fifth-generation primary producer Jen Jeffreys is helping ensure the future of her family’s mixed farming/grazing operation remains as dynamic as its past.
An impressive business plan, comprehensively strategising the various components of her family’s northern NSW enterprise, has earned this progressive young producer this year’s Rabobank Dr John Morris’ Business Development Prize – a business prize awarded annually as part of the Rabo’s Executive Development Program.
As one of the region’s earliest settlers, the Munro family has owned Weebollabolla, Moree since 1873 and Boonal, Boggabilla since 1890 – with the company now taking a fresh new turn as Ms Jeffreys and her three sisters transition management with their father, Sandy Munro.
With the Munro name synonymous with the Shorthorn breed – for over 100 years the family has been breeding and perfecting its acclaimed Weebollabolla bloodline – livestock remains key to the business.
And with Ms Jeffreys now at the helm, she intends to continue to “adapt to succeed”, continually reassessing the company’s strengths and weaknesses for long-term resilience and viability.
“The next generation’s management style will be entirely different, particularly given the female element and the fact we’re spread across the state – the role of technology is crucial considering I live over 1000km away,” Ms Jeffreys said, who lives with her three children and husband, John, on his family operation, Delegate Station, in southern NSW.
“I have wanted to do a business plan for years,” she said. “And the EDP provided the steps, and guidance if I had any questions, and most importantly, a deadline to get on with it. This document is just the start. It will grow as we grow, and I’ve already presented it to our team as it’s so important they understand their role in the business – everyone adds value.”
Making every hectare count
With her family’s operation spanning livestock, lotfeeding and cropping over two geographic regions, Ms Jeffreys said it was imperative they could accurately measure and analyse where the greatest gains per hectare could be made.
In recent years, Norland Pastoral has shifted focus to include lotfeeding 365 days of the year and increased its cropping area to maximise gross margins per hectare.
Put simply, Ms Jeffreys said: “We just want to make sure every hectare counts”.
The cropping plan includes specialist and commodity grains for both human and animal consumption, revolving around a basic five-year cropping rotation, including both summer and winter schedules.
“Discipline pays dividends so the aim is to stick to our rotation, focus on dollars per hectare for the long-term average rather than chasing one-off dollars per tonne,” she said.
Weebollabolla’s accredited 990-head feedlot supplies 110 head per fortnight and, Ms Jeffreys said, the enterprise was able to capitalise on its smaller size by becoming Australia’s first antibiotic-free accredited feedlot – ensuring quality over quantity for maximum returns in this niche market.
“Working with our agent and keeping in close communication with our processor to provide a product they want is key,” Ms Jeffreys said.
Executing a consistent feed, and cleaning water troughs, was equally important, and she explained that this helped ensure kilo-average daily gains per head were not compromised – with water intake directly correlated to feed intake.
The feedlot complements Weebollabolla’s cropping and livestock arms, and offers another market option to value-add their grain.
It also provides an opportunity to better utilise the company’s plant and people – which, Ms Jeffreys said, assisted their total plant, machinery and labour per hectare results, particularly through the drought.
“As a supplier of beef genetics for more than 100 years, we are very aware of the challenging balance between targeting traits imperative to a self-replacing herd – to pushing performance in kilos in the paddock, feedlot and on-the-kill chain, as well as ensuring a delicious dining experience every time, so that consumers are happy to pay a premium,” she said.
However, Ms Jeffreys believed understanding key profit drivers to target, and having an insight into the operation’s people and land capabilities was far more important.
“Grazing management to improve kilos per hectare can yield far greater returns on assets management and that takes people skills – and knowledge of the different soil types and grass potential.”
Impressive on several levels
With nine shortlisted EDP participants presenting their business plans for the 2020 Dr John Morris prize, program director Robin Stonecash said Ms Jeffreys’ project was impressive on several levels.
“The business she is running is complex, with multiple enterprises, however Jen had a clear vision of how all the component parts fit together and reinforced each other,” Ms Stonecash said.
“She was also able to articulate the drivers of success in each individual components, and while the ability to see both the big picture and the fine detail is a rare one, Jen clearly has it.”
The judges were also impressed with Ms Jeffreys’ ability to see her product from the customers’ point of view, exemplified by her move to making her feedlot antibiotic free.
“Jen recognises that there is demand for this in the market place and is responding, and it was encouraging to see her apply the frameworks she learned on the EDP to good effect, using the tools outlined to formulate her strategy and action plans,” Ms Stonecash said.
Kristen Clark of Glenbank Farm, Tocumwal, NSW was also announced People’s Choice Winner thanks to her successful strategy expanding her family’s dairy farm at Finley in the Southern Riverina. Erin Green, a director of family farming business Carrawingee Farms near Geraldton in Western Australia, also received a special mention.
About Rabo’s EDP and FMP programs
Tailored for farmers at different stages in their career, Rabobank offers two business management programs each year – the EDP for experienced farm business owners or senior managers, while the Farm Managers Program (FMP) has been developed for up-and-coming farmers looking to enhance their management capabilities. Both programs are open to applicants across the agricultural sector, and not limited to Rabobank clients.
Jen Jeffreys is one of 29 participants from across Australia and New Zealand taking part in the 23rd EDP.
Normally run as two residential modules held a year apart, part of the second module of the 23rd EDP was delivered online for the first time this year, due to COVID-19. The remainder of the module is scheduled to be completed in July 2021.