Financial literacy: Tips for young cattle producers

James Nason, 04/03/2022

INVEST in your financial literacy, young cattle producers are often told.

But what does that mean in practical terms?

Central Queensland cattle producer Ryan Olive can talk with direct experience on the subject, having developed a range of rural businesses over the past decade from helicopter mustering to a cattle export depot and feedlot at his family’s cattle property near Raglan, to a full-time cattle trading operation.

The latter grew largely out of his involvement in the most recently completed round of the Graeme Acton Beef Connections program, which was run in conjunction with Beef 2021.

Ryan Olive. Picture: Paula Heelan Photography

Over the 18-month-program he worked with some of the Australian cattle industry’s leading achievers as mentors to develop a project aimed at helping young producers to build livestock trading skills as a means of helping them to achieve financial independence.

Beef Central caught up with Ryan this week to talk about what he sees as the steps young cattle producers can take to start building the financial skills they will need for the future.

One quote he offered straight off the bat helped to summarise why he believes financial knowledge is something worth investing in:

“Someone I spoke to recently said that you can build a townhouse on six-inch foundations, but you can’t build a sky-rise on the same six-inch foundations, and that really resonated with me.”

‘You can build a townhouse on six-inch foundations, but you can’t build a sky-rise on the same six-inch foundations’

One of the biggest barriers he sees to young producers getting started is simply a lack of confidence.

“Taking that first step is probably the hardest thing, and it’s something I had to push through and deal with as well.”

But once young producers are prepared to start investing in their knowledge, here are some good places to start, in Ryan’s view:

The best thing to invest in? Yourself

Having solid financial literacy is crucial, more so now than ever before with the amount of dollars tied up in agricultural assets and enterprises, Ryan says.

“I never attended uni, but if I added up what I have spent on my own education through different courses and programs it would stack up pretty well.

“One of the better courses I have done cost me $12,500 paid up front.

“The return on that one alone I believe is 100-fold.

“Learning and understanding general business principles are invaluable, they’re skills that once you have and are using, you never forget.”

Cash flow statement, Profit and Loss, Balance sheet

“If you can’t read those, it is like driving a car without any gauges. You can do it, you just don’t know if or when you will run out of fuel,” Ryan said.

“A sound understanding of the basics of accounting and how it works is beneficial, it is the language of business.

“You don’t have to be an accountant or have an accounting background to make it work, but understanding a cash flow statement, P&L and balance sheet takes a lot of risk off the table.

“I look at the cash flow statement and P&L on a weekly to fortnightly basis so I always know where I am at.”

Ryan recommends focusing on targeted courses and business coaching to develop specific skills and tools that will fill in the gaps and help you along your path.

“There is a lot of quality material out there like KLR Marketing and Farm Owners Academy,” he said.

Livestock trading skills

Investing in education to improve his livestock trading skills, along with his participation in the Graeme Acton Beef Connections program and discussions with mentors with deep experience in cattle trading, helped Ryan to shift his business focus to trading cattle when a slowdown in livestock export activity put the brakes temporarily on the live export yards in 2020.

He said trading skills are valuable because they can help young producers gradually build up equity and cash flow on their path to building a business, without having to buy their own land as the starting point.

What doesn’t get measured won’t get managed

Ryan advocates keeping very detailed records on everything you do including all income, operating costs and expenses.

“Track everything and manage by the numbers,” he said.

“For me once I started measuring and managing from the numbers, I started making in-roads and it just helped to remove my emotion from the decision making process.”

Adaptability is key

Rather than sitting on his hands and waiting for the Queensland live trade to increase in volume again – which it ultimately will, but still remains in a lull after several months – he chose to pivot instead into 100 percent cattle trading, which was the focus of his Graeme Acton Beef Connections project.

“Nothing is permanent, everything is going to change, and if you look at the market, it is always shifting.

“Being adaptable is one of the key things.

“Our export business had been going very well but when the export business stopped just about overnight I had to totally realign the whole model.”

Mentors and advisors

“It is not about how much money you can make, but how much you can keep.  If two people are making $100,000 a year but one keeps $60,000 and another keeps $40,000, we know which one is better off.

Ryan with his mentor Phillip Hughes at the closing event of the  Graeme Acton Beef Connections program in 2021 in Toowoomba.

A good understanding of tax benefits such as depreciation and offsets can make a big difference at the end of the year.

Ryan says there are a lot of tax incentives available to agriculture that people aren’t aware of, which is why it is crucial to use a good accountant who specialises in agriculture.

“They’re up to speed on all these issues and you are possibly leaving money on the table every year if you’re not using a specialist.”

“One of the key things is to find the right people to put around you as advisors and mentors such as an accountant and solicitor, you need the right people in your corner and having access to them when you need them is crucial and can make a big difference to your bottom line, a good advisor will save you more than they ever cost you in the long run.

“Also having access to great mentors is invaluable, I was fortunate enough to go through the Graeme Acton mentors program and that has been irreplaceable for me.

“I was lucky enough to be paired with Philip Hughes throughout the program and being able to draw on his knowledge and skills around trading was extremely helpful. My project has grown into more than just that, it is now my business and my main source of income.

“Failure can be a great learning opportunity, but it is also easier to learn from someone else’s mistakes and it costs a lot less too. Having someone to speak with and leverage of their experiences can take a lot of the pain out of the game.”








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  1. Stuart Austin, 06/03/2022

    I couldn’t agree more, well done Ryan, some terrific advice there for every young person in the industry. Whether self employed, or an employee, those who understand the numbers and are financially literate will be the ones who lead us into the future.
    Great article!

  2. Melinee Leather, 05/03/2022

    Fantastic article! There is some great advice in there for everyone. A great example of the power of mentoring as well.

  3. Ian McCamley, 04/03/2022

    Great article James. Plenty of good business advice from Ryan for the young and the not so young!

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