Ground Cover North : Ground Cover 053 December-January 2005 - North
FEATURE 28 DECEMBER 2004 NUFFIELD SCHOLARS: PART 2 Victorian grower Dean Johns has long been an early adopter of new technology, an outlook that was reinforced by his 1999 Nuffield scholarship, sponsored by GRDC and Qantas. The innovation-driven areas of precision farming and new technologies were his special interests and he also returned with a much better awareness of the need to diversify. "On my Nuffield tour I found that the most successful people weren't just farming," he says. "In Australia, there are no handouts and it can be difficult to make a living as a grower." Which is why Mr Johns' approach to diversification owes more to beauty than barley. With his wife and business partner, Gabriella, a beauty therapist, Mr Johns has started a salon in Horsham. Simply Skin and Body has grown by 48 percent in the past 12 months and its success is part of their risk management. He also contracts out farm services with machinery for harvesting, mulching, spraying and sowing, in addition to having 1600 hectares under wheat, malting barley, chickpeas, broad beans, canola and lentils at Dooen, 14 kilometres north of Horsham. Diversification in business has brought many sources of satisfaction. "You feel a sense of achievement when you do a good contracting job, just as you do when one of our salon staff is awarded a trip to Sydney for their work." Mr Johns credits the Wye College farm business management course that he did in the UK as an additional part of his Nuffield year as being "inspirational in what I do". Marketing, communication, problem solving and negotiating skills were just a few of the subject areas from which he benefited. "Business-wise, it taught me how to handle almost anything. We learned that in any business, the people factor is the biggest thing -- that applies to both staff and clients." The right attitude is also essential: "If you can show that enthusiasm for your business, staff and clients want to be a part of it." He also learned the importance of putting systems in place to ensure that the business can run without him -- although having three enterprises on the go is proving to be an ongoing challenge on that score. One of the reasons Mr Johns applied for the Nuffield scholarship was that he did not have a tertiary education. He describes the Nuffield experience as "a whirlwind of a thing". "You actually experience so much that you learn nearly as much as you would from three years of tertiary education." His confidence in exploring new technology and to be among the first to adopt it, particularly in precision agriculture, has resulted in a close affiliation with Case, which has been financially beneficial, he says. "Nuffield helped me to not be afraid of new technology. I'll have a go and run with it and then feed that information back to the supplier." His hands-on experience has also led to a role training diploma students in hi-tech machinery at the Longerenong Campus of the University of Melbourne. Nufarm has also chosen Mr Deans to be a local representative on a panel that provides feedback to the industry. But being an innovator can have its drawbacks when it comes to finding staff. "Because I'm dealing in such new technology it can be hard to find the right people. I have to spend a lot of my time training them." GRDC RESEARCH CODE NUF 00007, program 6 For more information: Dean Johns, firstname.lastname@example.org Aland-locked Tasmanian seed business is not the first place you would go in search of shipping containers. Yet the versatile storage units are a cornerstone of Ardent Seeds' modular system of handling -- an integrated approach that owner-manager Robert Dent believes is probably unique in Australia. A former Nuffield scholar, Mr Dent was a bit of a magpie on his Nuffield tour -- plucking bright ideas, such as the containers, from unlikely places and applying them in innovative ways to improve his own business. Innovation is a word that features prominently on the Ardent Seeds' website. The company handles an estimated 600 tonnes of seed a year, including linseed, clover seed, lavender flowers and vegetable seeds. Ardent's contract-cleaning side has doubled since Mr Dent returned from his scholarship and he is venturing into new areas that are drawing interest from overseas. "Nuffield gives you the confidence to try things and to think on a larger scale. Being from Tasmania you tend to think smaller, but it internationalised my view," he says. "And you think, if someone else can do it, why can't I?" Mr Dent is the fifth generation of his family to farm 250 hectares of undulating, tree-dotted farmland in the state's central north. The property is fairly sheltered and set against a stunning backdrop of mountains that wear snow caps in winter. Ardent uses the second-hand containers to store and dry seed. Mr Dents says they provide more flexibility, versatility and practicality for crops that require segregated storage to maintain identity preservation. A container could hold 20 tonnes of wheat or nine tonnes of grass seed, compared to the excess storage offered by an immovable, 50- tonne silo. "We handle many different lines in what might be small amounts and we have to be able to clean out quickly," he says. "This is another advantage containers have over silos. Shipping containers are also mobile -- they can be dropped into the paddock to collect the seeds from the header, then the loaded container is carried to Ardent for processing, bypassing any risk of contamination." Alternatively, growers can deliver the seed in their own trucks, dump it into pits and then go. "We can lift the container -- the 'silo' -- and bring it to the pit and fill it there and we aren't holding trucks up." Mr Dent had thought of shipping containers but it took the Nuffield tour to nudge it along. In Alberta, Canada, he was leafing through an old seed magazine in a seed cleaner's shed, when he spotted a story about a man who was selling modified shipping containers as extra storage for grain. He coupled this nimble thinking with an idea he had just spotted in Scotland, where he saw a trailer being used for drying seed. Two augers stirred the trailer load to help it dry evenly. Mr Dent now uses an auger plunged straight into an open-topped container to achieve the same result on a much bigger scale, thereby integrating his collection, drying and storage. His latest venture is Tasglobal Seeds, which combines Mr Dent's resources with his business partner's knowledge and access to germplasm. They have signed a cooperative research agreement with the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Water and Environment and the Tasmanian Institute of Agricultural Research. In his industry and in Tasmania, in particular, innovation is essential to business survival, he says. "The Nuffield Scholarship accelerated our innovation." GRDC RESEARCH CODE NUF 00007, program 6 For more information: Robert Dent, email@example.com A Nuffield Scholarship is expected to lift a young farmer's horizons beyond the home farm. But few start out realising that it is often the beginning of a never-ending journey. In the second part of a series, Kay Ansell looks at two scholars who have turned change into a way of life. Dean Johns: Teaming barley with beauty Robert Dent: Bright ideas from unlikely places To find our more about Nuffield scholarships, go to www.nuffield. com.au Embracing change isawayoflife Risk management: Dean Johns, wife Gabriella and the beauty business. Nimble thinking: Robert Dent finds innovative uses for shipping containers.
Ground Cover 054 February-March 2005 - North
Ground Cover 052 October-November 2004 - North