Broadening farmers’ horizons

What is the condition of Polish wheat this year? How do Dutch farmers organise business succession? And just how impressive is the Brazilian agricultural boom witnessed up close? Supported by Rabobank, agribusinesses can improve their knowledge and strengthen their networks by exploring conditions in other countries – and gain new insights to help drive their business in the process. Some agribusiness owners even go so far as to describe their study tour as a ‘wake-up call’.

Rabobank provides agribusinesses with access to knowledge and networks

Rabobank has long been aware of how important acquiring new knowledge and joining the right networks is in helping agribusinesses build and grow their operations. Indeed, the bank has been generous in sharing its knowledge and network with these agribusinesses, and has, over the years, connected farmers with other entrepreneurs, experts at research institutions, and its own in-house experts – including 80 analysts at Rabobank Food & Agribusiness Research.

Local, regional, national and international

In addition to organising regular local and regional research and networking events, Rabobank also offers programmes for participants from the own country and far beyond. The bank has been hosting the Global Farmers Master Class since 2012, a gathering of more than 150 farmers from all over the world. In Australia and New Zealand, more than 500 farmers have participated in the Rabobank Executive Development programme since 1999; more than 1,000 young farmers in the Netherlands have completed the training programme for business successors (Rabo Opvolgers Perspectief – ‘Rabobank Prospects for Business Successors’) since 2007, and around 60 young Brazilian farmers are currently attending the AgriLeaders programme of Rabobank’s Brazilian operations, also established in 2007.

Seeing issues from a fresh perspective

‘This trip was, hands down, the most educational journey I have ever experienced’, says farmer Gregory Sanders, a participant in the Brazilian-based AgriLeaders programme. He was a member of the contingent of young Brazilian farmers who visited the Netherlands in June 2015, where he visited various agribusinesses and studied issues related to business succession in agriculture. One central question he studied was how the new generation of farmers can acquire multi-million-euro businesses and manage to turn a profit. ‘I feel the problems Dutch farmers encounter are very similar to the ones we face in Brazil. Being an outsider at the Dutch farms we visited, I felt a little like an analyst of sorts, someone who could see the issues from a fresh perspective. This also made me keenly aware of the mistakes I make on our own farm on a daily basis, which I normally wouldn’t really notice. I would say this trip was definitely a kind of wake-up call for me in that I became aware of the customs and procedures at our farm that I perhaps need to reflect on and reconsider.’ For Sanders, the trip had an extra dimension: being of Dutch descent, he visited the country of his ancestors for the first time.

Privileged

At the same time as Sanders temporarily swapped his native Brazil for the Netherlands, Rabobank customer David Guthmiller and a group of fellow agribusiness owners travelled from the United States to Brazil. ‘I decided to join the group because I wanted to see the Brazilian agricultural boom with my own eyes. Other than that, I was also very interested in witnessing up close the major impact of Brazil on our own grain markets. I was extremely impressed by the massive tracts of farmland we saw there, but I also have to say that experiencing the Brazilian roads and transport first hand has made me appreciate the infrastructure we have in the US all the more. I got the opportunity to meet many other business owners during this study tour, along with Rabobank employees. Rabobank is a leading agricultural bank and has been an integral part of our ability to expand in our business. We are privileged to have a great working relationship with Rabobank.’

Figuring out your international competitive position

Tieo Schot and 32 other arable farmers in the Netherlands travelled to Poland together with several Rabobank specialists. ‘Spring is a good time to visit other countries, see how their crops are doing and check out the latest developments’, says Schot, who, along with his brother, runs an agricultural farm and refrigeration business in the Netherlands. He also has a business interest in an agricultural farm in Eastern Europe.
Schot compared his impressions of his visit to Poland with his own experiences and explained how this related to the international competitive position of the Netherlands: ‘The seeds, propagation materials and growing methods are the same wherever you go, but – aside from the climate and the soil – there are two major differences between the Netherlands and Poland: the cost of labour and the price of land. Labour costs six times more in the Netherlands than it does in Poland. Land in the Netherlands is expensive, but foreigners can only purchase land in Poland by entering into a joint venture with a Polish company. The farms in Poland are much larger-scale than in the Netherlands, but storage, processing and sale are all much more of a challenge over there. In the Netherlands, everything is perfectly organised. Our country’s strength lies in exporting knowhow and propagation materials such as seeds and seedlings, as well as in catering to niche demands for consumer products. This trip has once again given me a better understanding of the international position of our country, including, of course, that of my own business. It was also good in terms of building my network – you never know what those new contacts could potentially lead to in the future.’