A Good Example of Mentoring Success for Farmers

Published – 30 March 2018 By Gavin Beever

Good mentors can help accelerate the professional development of farmers and provide them with greater confidence and ability in assessing and setting business direction, identifying issues and opportunities, tackling key operational tasks and monitoring business performance. Giving them a greater likelihood of success.

The experience of the Meat and Livestock Australia “MLA Challenge” provides a useful case study for extension professionals to consider. It used an innovative competition format, based on reality television programs (e.g. Masterchef, The Biggest Loser and The Block); that involved a group of six farm businesses competing to improve their productivity against benchmarked measures over a twelve month period. They were provided with mentors and had access to MLA’s broad range of research outcomes, tools and information.

MLA Challengers: Andrew and Megan Miller (QLD), Bill and Georgia Wilson (VIC), Marcus and Shannon Sounness (WA), Mathew and Angela Pearce (NSW), Lachlan and Anna Hughes (QLD). Source Westpac.

The aim was to encourage the adoption of better farm management practices, by allowing people to follow the learning journey of the six selected “challengers”. The project had a total reach of 3.1 million through its communication channels and it led to a lift in the number of downloads of MLA’s extension materials and access of online tools. The 2014 MLA member survey showed that 37% of MLA members were aware of the “Challenge”.

An evaluation of the MLA Challenge found that the main benefits to the six Challengers were:

  1. Productivity and profitability improved
  2. Decision making improved; it’s now based on strategic and critical thinking, research, measurement and planning
  3. Improved dynamics of the family business: Business members now have a better understanding of roles
  4. More confidence and motivation to get the best out of advisors, partners, suppliers etc and to keep improving the business

Twelve months of the MLA Challenge in the eyes of the Challengers is provided via this short YouTube video:

Every Challenger said that the Challenge was an overwhelmingly positive experience and they would do it again, they also all said that they hope it is run again.

All mentors said the main benefit they got was the personal satisfaction of helping a family business. The said that developing a personal relationship was the key to the mentoring process (the fact that the Challengers and Mentors had a good “chemistry”).

Judge and benchmarking consultant Sam Newsome gives an overview on the MLA Challenge process here:

Key things the Challengers learnt were:

  • “The main thing we’ve learnt is to get independent, specialist advice and to focus on the things in the business that really make a difference.”
  • “We started pregnancy scanning, and achieved 97%, which we attribute to regular pasture monitoring and maintaining cow body scores.”
  • “We’ve learnt the critical importance of measuring, particularly the cost of production, and working to drive it down.”
  • “The biggest achievement for us has been shifting to a whole of business approach.”
  • “Now our decisions are well researched, informed and defendable, and they will get us the results we’re after.”
  • “We’ve been buying in cattle to make the most of the feed on offer. This time last year we didn’t have enough cattle to take advantage of it, and we lost the chance to covert grass to kilograms.”
  • “We decided to turn off our lambs as 35-40kg shippers instead of 50kg prime merinos. We calculated we could save as much as $40,000 per year in feed costs for our ewes. We changed our focus to production per hectare rather than chasing a high dollar per head market.”

Each of the competing challengers achieved significant and measurable improvements in their farm businesses, improvements in the skills of measurement, tracking, analysis and planning, and perhaps more importantly, shifts in their attitudes towards change, over the 12 months.

MLA Challenge – The importance of benchmarking and how it was used in the “Challenge” is shown in the video below, please click on the photo.

Sources and for further information

MLA Challenge/Meat and Livestock Australia.  https://www.mla.com.au