Graduates benefit from farm business management program
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Graduates continue to reap benefits from farm business management program more than a decade on

More than a decade on, farmers who have graduated from one of agriculture’s premier education programs, the Rabobank Executive Development Program, continue to reap the benefits from implementing long-lasting changes to the management of their farming business.

Tailored for progressive farmers to develop and enhance their business management skills, more than 600 farmers from across New Zealand and Australia have graduated from the Executive Development Program since it was launched in 1999.

With 2017 applications now open, Rabobank is calling for other forward-thinking farmers to join their ranks by applying for this year’s program.Run over two one-week residential modules – held over consecutive years – the Executive Development Program covers all major aspects of business management including strategic business planning, negotiation, financial management, risk management, communication and innovation.

Rabobank New Zealand chief executive officer Daryl Johnson said the program’s focus – which was on the direct application of course learnings back into participants’ own businesses – along with the opportunity to network with some of New Zealand and Australia’s most innovative primary producers and business professionals, helped equip farmers with a strategic approach to running their enterprise.

“There are many new skills and ideas introduced in the program which can be immediately applied by participants, and can bring about short-term changes to farmers’ businesses, however it’s the longer-term benefits from having done the course that are clearly apparent in many previous graduates’ farming operations. And it’s this long-term impact which illustrates just how significant the pay back from the program can be,” he said.

Among the first farmers to complete the Executive Development Program – in 2003 – Hawkes Bay mixed farmer Hugh Ritchie has used the learnings to implement significant and ongoing changes to his business.

Ritchie, who runs a 2000 hectare sheep, beef and cropping operation with his wife Sharon, says one of the key learnings he took from the program was the importance of taking time out of the business to assess what you are doing and to look at where the opportunities are to add value into the future.

“Spending time actually working on your business, not in it, is a critical thing and it’s something that now, long after doing the course, I still need to remind myself of and continue to make time for,” he said.

"The course’s emphasis on the need to step back and take in the bigger picture prompted us to make some key decisions in relation to our business including moving forward with the vertical integration of our cropping operation through the formation of relationships with processors and starting to develop a farm succession plan.

“I also used the management project component of the course, which is completed between the first and second program modules, to look at ways that we could improve efficiency in the business. Focusing on these larger strategic issues set the business up well for the future and has helped contribute to its doubling in scale over the last 15 years."

Another key message Ritchie took from the program was the importance of gaining an understanding of what makes others tick to ensure the development of strong relationships.

“Good relationships have certainly proven to be crucial in driving our business forward. Over the years we’ve built some really strong relationships with the processors we supply and a lot of this comes down to understanding their drivers and our own drivers and if you can do this you can have a pretty successful relationship,” he said.

Ritchie said the lessons taken from the program around the importance of understanding others motives had also been relevant in dealing with staff the business employs.

“The course covered off personality profiling and some techniques which help you develop a better understanding of an individual’s personality and what’s important to them, and we’ve used this quite a lot with our own staff so we can better understand their way of thinking.

“We’ve found that it’s amazing what you can get out of people if you can push the right buttons.”

Since graduating from the program, Ritchie has continued to reconnect with fellow course participants and graduates from other years’ Rabobank Executive Development Programs, through attending alumni programs.

Ritchie hosted an alumni event on his property in 2015 and last year attended an alumni event in Tasmania.

“The recent event we attended in Tasmania was really good and we came back from it with a lot of ideas as to how we can further evolve our operation.”

Applications for the 2017 Rabobank Executive Development Program are open until May 26, with applicants accepted from across a range of commodities and geographical locations in Australia and New Zealand. Held in Sydney, the first module runs from August 13 to 18, with the second module taking place in July next year.

With strong demand expected for a place on the program, and only 36 farmers accepted in this year’s intake, interested primary producers are urged to apply online at

Rabobank New Zealand is a part of the international Rabobank Group, the world's leading specialist in food and agribusiness banking. Rabobank has more than 115 years' experience providing customised banking and finance solutions to businesses involved in all aspects of food and agribusiness. Rabobank is structured as a cooperative and operates in 40 countries, servicing the needs of approximately 8.8 million clients worldwide through a network of more than 1000 offices and branches. Rabobank New Zealand is one of New Zealand's leading rural lenders and a significant provider of business and corporate banking and financial services to country's food and agribusiness sector. The bank has 33 branches throughout New Zealand. Rabobank also operates RaboDirect, New Zealand’s first internet-only bank specialising in savings and deposits.

Media contacts:

David Johnston
Marketing & Media Relations Manager
Rabobank New Zealand
Phone: 04 819 2711 or 027 477 8153

Denise Shaw
Head of Media Relations 
Rabobank Australia & New Zealand 
Phone: +612 8115 2744 or +61 2 439 603 525