Since the last edition of InTouch there have been many developments within Pinion Advisory. The most significant is the addition of HydroPlan to the Pinion Group. Adding the HydroPlan team to our water team significantly increases our overall capability in the provision of irrigation design and water related engineering services. Water is a precious resource, and it is not uncommon to see the value of water licences exceed the value of land on many Snapshot reports...
I am particularly excited about our addition of HydroPlan as it also increases our footprint to now include Queensland and Western Australia. Pinion now has a presence in every Australian state, except for the Northern Territory.
I think you will enjoy the article about HydroPlan. They have worked on some very cool projects.
Agriculture is currently faced with some significant challenges and opportunities. As the trusted advisor for many farmers across Australia, we are now launching a Carbon and Climate Change Service. This new service is focused on providing practical and factual science-based advice that clearly benchmarks and sets up a plan to guide future management. The carbon price continues to rise globally, so sitting out, benchmarking and properly positioning your farming business seems like a very sound approach.
Attracting and retaining good quality employees is also a constant challenge for managing farming businesses. The People and Succession Team have compiled some tips for positioning your business as employment ready.
There is also a couple of useful articles on grain marketing and our involvement in the WeedSmart campaign.
There are some additional client focused initiatives in the pipeline and I look forward to announcing them throughout 2022.
I hope you enjoy this edition of InTouch.
Carbon in ag – hot air or good for business?
Our word art cow illustrates the enormous amount of noise around carbon in agriculture at the moment. Many in industry and government would have us believe that carbon is the next big thing for agriculture, and we need to act NOW. But carbon is a hugely complex topic, so it’s worth pausing, taking a breath and unpacking things a little to work out what’s hot air and what’s based on robust science. As a starting point, climate change and carbon do offer opportunities and risks for agriculture, although what’s what will differ for different industries, regions and individual businesses...
Greenhouse gases and agriculture
Agricultural activities release greenhouse gases. Agricultural contributes 16% of Australia’s total Green House Gass (GHG) emissions, of which the three key gases are as follows.
The carbon cycle figure shows how the natural carbon cycle works in agriculture. Carbon changes form at different points of the cycle. For example cows eat grass and convert the carbohydrates into a product (meat or milk) that contains carbon and releases methane as a by-product. The carbon cycle isn’t balanced from a GHG perspective because of the different global warming potential (GWP) of carbon products (methane) (Table 1). While carbon is one of the building blocks of life (think protein, carbohydrates), it can have negative impacts in some forms (e.g. gases that trap excess radiant energy with the atmosphere).
The carbon cycle figure also shows how carbon can be captured and stored by agricultural activities - in the soil as humus and in trees
Opportunities for agriculture
Agriculture is in a unique position in managing greenhouse gas emissions. There is an opportunity to reduce emissions (and at the same time improve productivity) and to capitalise on the potential to store carbon in soils and trees through changed management. Practices that store carbon provide co-benefits that help to make production systems more resilient (e.g. soil water retention, nutrient cycling, biodiversity). Climate change impacts are most likely to be challenging for agriculture (e.g. increased temperatures, changes to rainfall patterns). Doing our best to reduce emissions of GHGs will help to minimise the impacts of climate change.
Carbon farming is the process of changing agricultural practices or land use to increase the amount of carbon stored in soil or vegetation and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from livestock, soil or vegetation. Carbon farming may provide additional business benefits, including:
- Additional income stream. Using approved management practices may provide an opportunity through carbon trading for a long-term sustainable income stream. It also provides an opportunity for sustainable income generation from a range of land classes.
- Strategic and competitive market positioning. There is increasing demand for carbon-friendly products (carbon neutral, low carbon), and some industries have carbon neutral targets (e.g. Meat & Livestock Australia’s CN30 goal).
Carbon stocks are not infinite and can only be counted once. If you make the decision to trade carbon, depending on what your baseline carbon balance is, you may forgo future opportunities to trade your products as carbon neutral. Hence this decision should not be taken lightly.
Where to start
The best place to start is to measure where you’re at now and identify the opportunities for your business to reduce emissions or improve carbon capture and storage. You also need to have a clear idea of your business goals and capability to ensure that whatever carbon farming strategy you decide on, it will be the correct long-term fit for your business. Carbon or GHG calculators are available for most industries. You also need to do your homework on any potential carbon trading project – be sure that the potential carbon sequestration targets are realistic and based on sound science and clearly understand the legal implications and the costs associated with implementing carbon projects. While the carbon space does present some new opportunities for agriculture, it also presents some challenges and risks, which need to be carefully thought through and managed.
Pinion Advisory’s carbon and climate change team works with clients to provide independent, scientifically sound, business-focused support and advice to navigate the world of carbon. We have an in-depth understanding of on-farm production systems and carbon and GHG emissions, enabling informed recommendations to increase productivity and profitability and improve sustainability. We do the homework for you.
For more information on our services and on carbon more generally, click here.
References and further reading
HydroPlan joins our water team
On 1 January, our capacity in water resources got a significant boost with the merger of industry leading irrigation and water engineering business HydroPlan into Pinion Advisory. We asked John Gransbury, Technical Director at HydroPlan to introduce us to some of their significant projects...
We are all excited to be working within Pinion Advisory to expand their water-related services and ultimately benefit all clients. We work in a broad range of sectors both nationally and internationally, and we have completed more than 12,000 projects during our thirty-five years as independent advisors in this speciality. We are regarded as innovative problem solvers that blend knowledge, experience, and technology to ensure practical outcomes and satisfied clients.
Two decades ago, we helped landowners in SA’s McLaren Vale wine region to build their own recycled water pipeline. Because this scheme grew every year from 17 outlets to over 250, it recently became the role model for a new recycled water scheme in Wamuran on QLD’s Sunshine Coast. Whilst the crops are very different, the principles for the first 10 outlets will be the same - that the best water schemes focus on maximising the value of produce sold at the farm gate, by delivering the water to the farm gate with security, quality, economy, and convenience.
Two of HydroPlan’s experts became the Solution Architect and the Scheme Participant Liaison Manager for the Joint Venture (JV) that will construct the Wamuran Irrigation System (WIS). The JV was formed between two third-generation agribusinesses (Twin View Turf and Piñata Farms) and a highly regarded local construction firm (Pensar). Whilst developing the concept design for the WIS, HydroPlan assessed all the existing on-farm irrigation systems to ensure the new water scheme will integrate seamlessly, and prepared Farm Management Plans to help manage the on-farm risks from using recycled water whilst growing minimally processed foods.
Class A recycled water from Caboolture South STP will be delivered at flow rates and pressures on-demand to augment supplies without storing the water. The WIS will expand with population growth nearby as part of Unitywater’s strategy to reduce nutrient loads in the Caboolture River and Moreton Bay. Stage 1 of the scheme will deliver 2,600ML and utilize a disused quarry to provide seasonal buffer storage of 1,440ML. The masterplan considers how the volume will treble and demands may reach 150ML/d (1,750L/s) by 2050.
Stock and domestic water supplies are life support systems for farmers, and whether they are small or large, they are complex and unique to each application. In addition to small on-farm schemes, HydroPlan has been designing the 1,400km East Grampians Rural Pipeline in Victoria. Hydraulic design is complicated because ‘everything is connected’, so we use world-class software with genetic algorithms that emulate survival-of-the-fittest breeding programs to ‘evolve’ the best pipe sizes, pump station locations and elevated storage tanks. This process saved energy and capital and simplified the network whilst making the best use of existing assets and multiple water sources to maximise security.
Farm dams are also important. When The Randall Wine Group acquired historic Quelltaler vineyard and winery in the Clare Valley wine region, water security was an immediate focus. HydroPlan initially conducted a benefit-cost analysis to confirm that storing off-peak water was the most economical alternative, then set about renovating and changing their two main dams into turkeys-nest style storages of 600ML combined capacity. We also designed upgrades to the drip systems to utilise the higher flows, and upgraded the two pump, filtration, and fertigation systems. We added simple water transfer and monitoring systems, and optimised the design, procurement and construction program around vineyard operations. We facilitated the development approval and provided construction oversight of multiple contractors to deliver the results on time and under budget.
Becoming ‘employment ready’
The New Year sees many farm businesses starting to look for new employees to boost their team for the year ahead. But as many farm employers and managers are aware, finding an employee for their business is a tricky task at the moment.
Rather than focus on that issue alone, we thought we would chat about positioning your business to be ‘employment ready’...
Here are five things you can proactively work on in your business to be ‘employment ready’:
1. Foster your ideal culture
Culture is defined as the demonstrable values that are lived by the business owner. Culture is directly influenced by the leaders of an organisation. It can be enhanced or eroded at any time. Cultural alignment between owner and employees is essential for a strong business, as alignment of values and culture leads to improved performance.
You may have a robust business strategy but without the right culture, the strategy will fail.
Recruit for the right attitude that reflects your culture. You can train and develop the skills required if your team has the right attitude.
One foundational framework is to ensure you ‘work above the line’. This is operating with ownership, accountability and responsibility. The opposite is blaming, making excuses and being in denial (below the line). ‘Working above the line’ is a choice you make as a leader, it will create trust and enhance your team function.
Communication is an essential trait of successful teams. On-farm this looks like:
- Developing ‘game plans’ for key operations such as seeding, shearing or harvest.
- Undertaking weekly toolbox meetings to ensure the team is clear on the tasks for the week.
- Clear roles and responsibilities that provide an outline of expectations and tasks.
- Use of messaging apps to keep in touch during the day (eg whatsapp or messenger).
- Effective delegation ensures clarity on task expectations, facilitates skill development and frees up time. Effective delegation includes – defining what success looks like, what happens when something goes wrong, ensuring the team is skilled to undertake the task, a clear deadline, and check-ins along the way.
- Dealing proactively with any team issues as they arise.
3. Professional operation
Set yourself up for success by operating as a professional business. This includes:
- Thorough recruitment process including reference checks.
- Clarity in your employment expectations (job descriptions).
- Systems and procedures that support your workplace culture (lead by example).
- A culture of accountability including feedback and support for teething issues.
- Induct and train all staff members to foster their individual skill set. Provide ongoing training opportunities.
- Regularly undertake performance reviews that provide two way feedback.
- Preserve confidentiality at all times.
4. Take a long-term focus
Map out the next five years of your business. What changes will occur within the team and/or business. Share your business vision for the future. Your team will appreciate seeing the goals on the horizon and want to be part of the journey.
Chat with your current team and develop pathways for long-term career progression within your business. Career development opportunities can be created if employees want to grow their skills. Asking the question is the start of the process.
Discuss family succession planning to ensure non-family employees understand their place in your business.
Hold on tight to your current team!
Work with your current team to ensure they are satisfied and happy. Losing a team member will be costly – both in time and money.
The key to retention is communication. Have an open conversation about where your employee is at and go from there.
Want to know more
Check out our online HR workshop – Creating Employers of Choice. Click here to view the flyer or register.
National Farmers’ Federation has announced AgCAREERSTART
AgCAREERSTART is a pilot, 24-month program for school leavers to try a job in agriculture and experience the unique opportunities the sector has to offer.
NFF are currently seeking expressions of interests from job seekers and employers. More information here:
Volatile grain markets here to stay
2021 – what a year for commodity markets. Australia has been fortunate with many regions experiencing average to above-average crops with drought level pricing. This has led to the most profitable year on record for these grain growing businesses. However, the 2021 marketing year was not without its challenges...
There have been many conversations over the past four months that have looked back into the past with longing for the return of the simplicity of the single desk. In the early 2000’s, grain marketing for the entire Australian crop was done by one or two companies with pools the main option for marketing grain during this time. Since this period though, grain markets have operated on the global stage and resulted in increased price volatility. While this volatility can be frustrating is also creates opportunity.
So what factors are driving price volatility:
- A move from ‘just in time’ to ‘just in case’. Pre COVID, much of the global trade worked off a ‘just in time’ system of freight. But uncertainty in supply chains, lack of shipping containers and longer turnaround times, have meant many importers have shifted their view to a ‘just in case’ model, lending itself to greater stockpiling.
- Weather driven markets. The Canadian drought had a significant impact on pricing. Pre-June we were looking at some of the highest global stocks of cereals on record. However, after hot, windy, dry weather across the Canadian prairies, we were suddenly looking at the lowest stocks in years. We also experienced canola production at an all-time low and lentil stocks positive to Australian pricing. The speed at which the situation changed, shows that weather will never be completely predictable or easy to manage and markets will continue to react in big ways to any threat to production.
- Food security becomes number one. Empty shelves due to panic buying is an image that had become synonymous with the pandemic. This coupled with concerns over drought in North and South America has meant many countries have now renewed their focus on ensuring ample stocks through difficult supply periods, including pandemics, drought, or slow logistics.
- Higher prices mean larger movements. Sellers have been lucky to see typically drought type pricing throughout periods of the last twelve months, but unfortunately this also sees larger fluctuations in pricing. Acting like pulse markets, it was not uncommon to see $10/t price movements in a day for cereals, where previously $1-2/t movements were the norm.
- Russia's war on Ukraine. One of the greatest market disruptors since we have moved to a deregulated market. The unpredictable nature of this event, and the flow on impacts to supply chains and global markets has been extreme. This is an event that will go into the history books and one that has had a significant impact on global volatility.
2022 will be a different year to the last, but it will be shaped by the experiences within global markets of the last two years. These will continue to have a bearing on the marketing of bulk commodities and require monitoring to identify opportunities. The market moves quickly, so make sure you’re on the front foot with support around you to help manage the constant volatility.
Fighting the war on weeds, with WeedSmart
Weeds costs growers big dollars each year. Whether it be through herbicide use, other weed management tools, or lost yield and quality at harvest. This applies to many broadacre, intensive cropping and pasture situations. Undoubtedly weeds will continue to play a massive part in our farming systems, and there is a cost of complacency when it comes to dealing with them...
Increasing herbicide resistance issues has meant that we’ve needed to ‘think outside of the box’ and adapt our farming practices to keep weed numbers at bay. In the last few decades we’ve seen a wave of weed science research, new herbicide MOA’s (mode of actions), and now new technologies available to combat problem weeds. Keeping on top of this information has been made easier than ever through the industry representation body, WeedSmart.
As well as working directly with clients, part of my role is as an extension agronomist for the WeedSmart program. This involves communicating weeds focused messages across SA, Victoria and Tasmania, in high rainfall regions. The overarching extension message focuses on preventing herbicide resistance, and dealing with common weeds in cropping and pasture situations.
“If you’re on a good thing, don’t stick to it” is a common mantra being echoed by the WeedSmart team. It couldn’t be more true when it comes to management of weeds in the long term. Any tool that provides diversity in control will prevent adaptation. Weed adaptation is the major reason we’re still facing weed issues despite all the modern tools we now have available.
To communicate these practical messages, WeedSmart have developed six overarching principles, coined as the 'the big 6'. Consider how these may, or may not be currently adopted on your property:
1. Rotate crops and pastures
Implement break crops, double breaks, pasture phases, and aim for consecutive years of no seed set on problem paddocks. This will allow a range of different tools and herbicide MOA’s to be utilized. Start by developing 3-5 year rotation plans, ranking paddocks in term of weed pressure, and having a proactive approach rather than dealing with weed blowouts.
2. Double knock to preserve glyphosate
Following up the glyphosate application with a second mode of action (paraquat) to kill any surviving weeds. Glyphosate resistance is only increasing in our farming systems, our only hope is to be extremely diligent in making sure no glyphosate survivors slip through the cracks.
3. Mix and rotate herbicides
Whilst somewhat self-explanatory, this principle often sounds easier in theory than what is practically adopted. The main principle behind this is: rotating buys you time, mixing buys you shots. Rotating between common herbicide MOA over a number of years still can lead to resistance over time. But mixing two or more herbicides together (think pre-emergent, broadleaf and grass herbicides) will allow the weeds to be controlled by more than one MOA. There will be a much lower chance of selecting for resistance weeds to one MOA, and essential buying you more ‘shots’ or opportunities to use those herbicides.
4. Stop weed seed set
Think: crop topping canola and pulse crops, windrowing canola, hay, silage, brown-manuring dirty paddocks, and spray-topping pasture paddocks. This aims to firstly reduce the size of the weed seed bank heading into next season and, is an opportunity to prevent any resistance escapee weeds from setting seed.
5. Increase crop competition
Crop types and varieties differ in vigour and how successfully they can out compete weeds. Choosing vigorous and competitive rotation options is one of the most underrated non-herbicide tools for weed control. Take the time to consider what other factors might be a weak link for poor crop vigour/ competition. Think of soil health, nutrition, drainage, row spacing, row orientation, time of sowing, and other underlying soil constraints such as pH, sodicity and compaction.
6. Harvest weed seed control (HWSC)
The last chance to clean up weed seeds is at, or after harvest. Big developments in this space has made it easier to ‘bolt-on’ a seed mill to harvesters and destroy weed seeds in one pass. This has superseded the other lower cost, but still effective HWSC options: chaff-lining, chaff-decking, narrow windrow burn, chaff cart and baling. Any tool that takes out a reasonable % of weed seeds at harvest is worthwhile looking into.
By stacking as many of the weed management ‘Big 6’ tools as possible, you’ll be heading in the right direction. Finding the balance between diversity of rotations vs simplicity of operations; and profitable vs sustainable strategies is a continual challenge we work through with clients. Take a look at your farming system from a strategic, long-term perspective, and consider how these strategies can be implemented to combat weeds each season.
Follow up by:
- Tuning in to the WeedSmart Podcast
- Checking out the website, and signing up to the monthly whip around
- Follow WeedSmart on Twitter and Facebook
Next Gen Breakthrough Group
Supporting the next generation of farm managers
South Australia: 6-7 April 2022
Get your business started
Managing a farm is a complex business. Considerations need to be made to manage people, finances and the business health to ensure a profitable and resilient farming operation.
The Next Generation Breakthrough Group is a 3-year program designed to assist and support the development of the next generation of farm managers. The group features like-minded producers from different regions, business models and levels of farming experience, to learn practical techniques, tools and processes to implement within their own farming businesses.