Farmer wants a bookkeeper

How online learning is helping Victoria’s young farmers secure their future in agriculture.

Young farmer Karleigh Martin has a lot on her plate.

The 28-year-old works on the family farm while working three days a week at a not for-profit-disability organisation and studying primary school teaching.

Karleigh is part of a growing band of young farmers taking every opportunity they can to develop their farm finance skills.

Despite being raised on a farm, it wasn’t until she joined husband Sam in the running of their sheep, cattle and mixed-cropping enterprise that she came to see the business side.

“I never previously had anything to do with the books,” she explains. “My husband hates doing the farm books and never prioritized them.  I think we now understand the value that can be added to a business when the books are done properly and how important it is to budget and plan financially.”

Not one to back away from an opportunity to learn, Karleigh signed up for a Young Farmers Business Bootcamp with Agriculture Victoria in nearby Warracknabeal.

Karleigh Martin in the shed with a flock of sheepThe Young Famer Business Bootcamps – first piloted by Agriculture Victoria in 2015 – are designed for those new to farming to help them understand and manage business risk, develop a business plan to grow their business and have confidence that there is a future in agriculture for them.

“I felt a little out of my depth at times during the bootcamp but found it really beneficial and I learned a lot.”

It was during one of the bootcamp sessions that the presenter was asked for tips to getting a loan to grow their business; ‘It helps if you think like a banker,’ she told the group, ‘Which means knowing what documents to keep up to date, showing you can manage cash flow.’

The advice struck a chord with Karleigh.

“Our farm feels pretty small compared to a lot of the others in our area, but we want to grow to the point where we can support me at home full-time and our future generations,” Karleigh says.

The couple’s 500 hectare farm near Brim – the small southern Mallee town famous for the big painted silos – has been in the family for four generations.

“At the workshop we looked at the performance benchmarks produced by the Grains Research and Development Corporation for farmers performing in the top 20 per cent,” she explains.

“The farmers were producing more tonnes per hectare with lower input costs.  I walked away from the bootcamp wondering how we could reduce our input cost without compromising how effectively we produced the product.

“The first thing we implemented was shopping around for chemical instead of purchasing it from the one store.

“We still shop locally but purchase elsewhere if the price difference is significant.

“In the season just passed we purchased a chaser bin and grain bag in-loader so we could store grain to try and capitalize on the upside of the market.

“I love sitting on the chaser bin and don’t mind doing sheep work. I’ll take any opportunity to learn,” Karleigh says.

With that in mind, she didn’t hesitate when a new express finance course targeting young farmers was offered earlier this year.

Based on the two-day business bootcamp workshops, the express 90-minute ‘Farm Finance – Getting Prepared’ webinars allowed Karleigh to continue to develop her business skills without having to leave the farm.

“When I saw the webinars come up I never hesitated, I jumped on board and registered straight away.

“After watching the first one I never regretted my decision and knew I wanted to make sure I was available to watch the remaining webinars.

“The webinars are available as a recording if you can’t attend live which was great for me when I had to leave one session early due to family commitments.

“However, I highly recommend attending live as the facilitators and presenter are very responsive to answering any questions about the content being discussed which is a wonderful opportunity to clarify any questions you may have.

“I received greater clarity and understanding on some things. For example, I always knew what fixed costs and variable costs were, but I sometimes got a little confused about some items and which category they would fall under.

“The presenter’s explanation cleared up any confusion I had.

“I understand how expensive consulting advice can be and I feel very privileged to have this opportunity.”

The couple’s commitment to focusing on the farm finances should give them every confidence to tackle whatever the future holds.

And while it’s just the four “super spoilt” fur children Flo, Pearl, Ned and Skye living with them at the moment – Karleigh says she’s also hoping to secure a future in agriculture for the next generation to come.

The ‘Farm Finance – Getting Prepared’ workshops were funded by the Victorian Government Smarter, Safer Farms initiative through its skills program which provides targeted training to build capability in financial literacy, risk management, farm planning and adaption to climate change.