The northern end of St George’s iconic Beardmore Dam stretches into the distance from view of Colin and Amanda Stewart’s farm house.
Keeping a family operation alive: How Farm Business Analysis Assistance is supporting generations of primary producers
The water is a welcome sight but also the reason for the third generation primary producers to diversify after years of drought heavily impacted operations on the 8,000 acre cattle property.
Colin has called Strathbogie home all his life, as did his father and grandfather, but drought meant he and Amanda had to diversify into new opportunities if their family, including three daughters, was to continue at the property.
An independent review through the Farm Business Analysis Assistance program gave Colin and Amanda an insight into their operations and validated their decision to diversify.
The program, delivered as part of the Queensland Rural and Industry Development Authority’s (QRIDA) Farm Debt Restructure Office with manager Daniel Elder, aims to get producers and financiers back around the table to tackle farm debt head-on.
Amanda said the diversification process ultimately returned the family farming business to its origins.
“QRIDA was able to help us in the beginning when we were buying the family farm out and we had to develop irrigation and go into cotton,” she said.
“Then as the family grew we moved from irrigation back to what the family has done for many years which is cattle.
“QRIDA has helped us out all along those stages.
“What we did do was diversify and that is one of the most important things to where we are now.”
Colin said drought was the primary influence on their need to diversify.
“We’ve just got through one of the biggest droughts,” he said.
“We started off as irrigation farmers then the river decided not to run for four years so we had cash flow problems and as a result we sold our irrigation to our neighbour and we sold some of the back country off.
“We’ve had some ups and downs in that time but we are at a good comfortable spot now and QRIDA has helped us out.”
Amanda said the Farm Business Analysis Assistance report provided confirmation of their ability to continue running the property and secure a home for their family.
“We diversified and needed some help to make sure we were on the right path, whether we wanted to reduce debt or buy some more cattle to reach our capacity quicker,” she said.
“The Farm Business Analysis Assistance was very helpful that way. We rang up Daniel at QRIDA and asked about our options, we wanted to make sure our family was going in the right direction.
“We’d had enough of this bouncing along the bottom. We still want to be here and want our kids to be here. This confirmed for us we were on the right track. It was good.”
Amanda said the Farm Business Analysis Assistance program provided them with a valuable tool to pass onto other stakeholders in the business.
“The program was simple, we talked to Daniel and chose an independent consultant who was in agriculture and would come out to see the property.
“We sat at the table discussing all sorts of things with the consultant then we went for a tour of our property. He was constantly in touch with us, verifying information. Once we’d finished, the consultant gave us a look at the draft report which we thought looked good. Then we gave it to the banks.
“The report allowed us to prove what we’d been saying to the banks and to the professionals. It gave us peace of mind to know we are on the right track and where we thought we should be. It has also helped us move to where we want to go financially.
“It was free and we could get expert advice, you choose the consultant, and we also weren’t being judged. I like that.”
Colin said the consultant’s independence meant they were able to validate their decisions.
“It was a no brainer to see what’s happening and how you look in a financier’s perspective,” he said.
“The consultant had a really good idea of what was going on. He turned up in the middle of a drought so he saw Strathbogie on the low side but he could still see we had cattle here which we were looking after. We’re all very proud of our properties and of our stock. That’s our value, that’s what we are valued on.
“It really gave you an independent insight into what you were doing. It gave our financiers the ability to see what level we were at by a totally independent person. No one likes to be told they’re not going well but someone can help you if you can recognise it.
“It gives you confidence to move.”
Amanda said it was especially important for the family to continue in the operation, at home in the Balonne Shire.
“We are still here because we like living in the country and Colin has lived here all his life, the people, the township, the friendship, this is where we are comfortable,” she said.
Amanda said she encouraged Queensland primary producers to consider QRIDA’s Farm Business Analysis Assistance program and how it might be able to support their decision making through times of uncertainty.
“My advice is to get on the phone and have a chat with Daniel. The process we found to be a really interesting journey, we didn’t feel threatened, we didn’t feel judged, we felt nurtured actually and it was very helpful.”