Farmers first in Global Farmers Master Class 2014

What are some of the strategic challenges facing farmers worldwide? A total of 40 farmers from 12 countries will be attending the Global Farmers Master Class in Australia this November on the invitation of Rabobank to find out the answer to this and other questions. ‘What could be better than meeting other farmers and exchanging ideas about why we are all doing this in the first place: feeding people.’

Before heading Down Under, for the 2014 Master Class (5-13 November), five farmers and one Rabobank employee looked ahead to the Global Farmers Master Class, where they and their international peers will be discussing issues such as innovation versus simplification, lower costs and increased sustainability, fairer prices and more effective risk management. During the event, attendees will be meeting researchers in food and agribusiness, innovation experts, agriculture professionals and leadership development experts.

How do we deal with price fluctuations and how should we manage risk?

Trienke Elshof’s profile: runs a 115-hectare dairy farm (230 cows) with her husband Henk in Oldetrijne, the Netherlands. She holds an MBA in Food & Finance from Nyenrode Business University and works with several organisations. Since 2013, she has been developing a system that enables dairy farmers and processors to fix their milk prices for a specific period.

On the Global Farmers Master Class: ‘As a dairy farmer, I am going be affected by the abolition of the EU milk quota system. Does that mean that we will produce for the world? How do we deal with price fluctuations, how should we manage risk, and how do other farmers deal with these issues? These are just some of the questions to which I hope to find answers during the Master Class. One of my interests is cooperatives. For example, I have experience with, and have also conducted research into, FrieslandCampina’s approach to member involvement. How do cooperatives such as Fonterra handle this? Is the cooperative model sustainable? What role can cooperatives play in managing risk? I also have an interest in science and innovation. Our farming business is participating in a series of pilot projects involving the use of sensors at dairy farms. The Global Farmers Master Class provides a wonderful opportunity for us to meet people and learn from each other. I am eager to share my experience with others, and feel that you should only attend an event of this kind if you truly have something to contribute.’

"The Global Farmers Master Class provides a wonderful opportunity for us to meet people and learn from each other."

Trienke Elshof, dairy farmer in the Netherlands

Learning more about the use of big data

Derck Hulshoff’s profile: runs a 400-hectare farm in Zwolle, the Netherlands, employing a staff of four. Crops include various potato varieties (seed potatoes, table potatoes and starch potatoes), along with corn and grass. Derck holds various administrative positions in the potato supply chain, including as a member of the Pool Price Committee at potato product manufacturer Aviko.

On the Global Farmers Master Class: ‘This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to visit a number of different farms in Australia. What could be better than meeting other farmers and exchanging ideas about the issues that concern us all and why we are all doing this in the first place: feeding people. None of us are in this for the money alone; farming is truly a calling, and putting food on people’s tables is a serious business.
As far as my expectations of the Global Farmers Master Class go, I would hope to learn more about the application of big data in farming. If you combine various data – including GPS and pictures of plots of land – together, will you receive information that tells you, say, whether to use less or more fertiliser? I do not have the connections to visit random farms in Australia to find out how they operate and learn from their methods, and Rabobank, through this event, provides me with the “in” I am looking for.’

Rationalization of the use of our natural resources

Bruno Melcher’s profile: manages his own farming operation in Mato Grosso, Brazil (12 thousand has of soybeans and corn). Member of the Finance and Strategy Committee of Vanguarda Agro in Brazil (250,000 hectares of soybean, corn and cotton farming) and member of the Board of Directors of RZ Agro (90,000 hectares of agriculture in the South of Russia).

The Global Farmers Master Class: ‘Over the past 35 years I have been deeply involved with both family and corporate farming. Sharing experiences, and thinking about the future with people who are leaders in the farming business, from all over the world, represent a unique personal and professional opportunity.
Important topic for me is the rationalization of the use of our natural resources: land, water and minerals. A complex theme with economical, scientific and maybe even ethical components. As leading farmers, we can not afford to be passive about this theme. We need to be proactive. I believe Rabobank is the best positioned financial institution in the agricultural sector and has a role in shaping the future of agriculture and agribusiness, by disseminating information and knowledge and using the power of its financing capabilities.’

Respect for higher-quality food

Jeroen Verver’s profile: a 20-year Rabobank veteran with experience both at local Rabobanks and at the head office, Jeroen currently serves as Food & Agri Manager at Rabobank Noord- en Oost-Achterhoek (18 FTEs). Owns a horse-breeding business, which he helps manage.

On the Global Farmers Master Class: ‘Our bank recently merged with another bank, and in terms of size we are currently one of the largest food and agri banks in the Netherlands. In true Rabobank tradition, we aim to be involved and nearby – by which I mean close to businesses and their owners – as well as to provide expert advice to our customers. We want to be close to hubs of knowledge exchange and innovation. We intend to use whatever knowledge we gather in Australia – also during farm visits – in our own operating area at a later stage. We will be organising a symposium in the first quarter of 2015, just before the farmers start working the land after the winter break. The symposium will be followed by a series of “mini master classes” with peers, including farm successors, pig farmers, agriculturists and dairy farmers. We will use these events to disseminate the information gathered from Master Class participants from all over the world. One of the topics I would like to see addressed at the Global Farmers Master Class is the value of food. Consumers tend to be wasteful with food products. Animal protein and fresh produce may be “traffic builders” in supermarkets, but if you buy three items for the price of two, chances are you will end up throwing that third item out. The third item should actually be more expensive – I feel that respect for higher-quality food should be reflected in the price.’

Sustainability: a ‘hot topic’

Frank and Annette Volleman’s profile: originally from Luxembourg, emigrated to the USA in 1993 to start Wildcat Dairy in Central Texas. Currently, 35 to 40 employees oversee 3,800 milking and dry cows, 3,400 replacement heifers and 1,200 hectares of farm and pasture land.

On the Global Farmers Master Class. Frank: ‘I have never been to Australia before, so I am curious about the country, also from an agricultural point of view. Farm succession is a subject that interests me. We have four sons: two of them already work on the farm, and the other two are interested in joining them. I also have a keen interest in science and innovation: for example, I have been following the whole GMO debate very closely. Sustainability is another subject near to my heart.
It is certainly a hot topic, and right at the top of the list of priorities of any large agricultural business, including the cooperative of which I am a member. We are not lacking for land on our farm, but we are faced with a water shortage. How to sustainably deal with it? This event really shows that Rabobank cares about more than just its bottom line. We all stand to benefit from this Master Class: the industry, the participants and Rabobank.’

How do we produce as economically as possible?

Henk-Jan Winkelhorst’s profile: owner of the Old Essink dairy farm in Aalten, the Netherlands. Employs three part-time workers, owns more than 400 cattle and produces more than two million kilos of milk a year. Henk-Jan is a member of Morgen, a think tank of large, innovative dairy farms.

On the Global Farmers Master Class: ‘It is a fantastic experience to visit other farms and learn about new developments. The Netherlands may be at the forefront of technology in many ways, but we are still just a small country. Also, we seem to have a tendency to make the proverbial “three right turns” and do things in unnecessarily complicated ways. It seems to me that people in other countries use simpler, more straightforward methods to solve their issues. Ultimately, the question we need to ask is: how do we produce milk as economically as possible and still make a profit? Although the attendees at the Global Farmers Master Class represent 12 different nationalities, at the end of the day we all serve the same global market. It is just that we are not always aware of that.’

"This event really shows that Rabobank cares about more than just its bottom line. We all stand to benefit from this Master Class: the industry, the participants and Rabobank."

Frank and Annette Volleman, dairy farmers in Texas

Master Classes provide farmers access to knowledge and networks

Rabobank previously hosted a Global Farmers Master Class in 2012, as well as the 2014 Young Farmers Master Class, for young farmers. With the master classes Rabobank provides access to knowledge and networks. This fits perfect with Banking for Food, Rabobank’s vision on global food security and the role of the bank.
This year’s Global Farmers Master Class runs from Wednesday, 5 November to Thursday, 13 November, ending at the inaugural Rabobank F20 (Food) Summit in Sydney, which will see a gathering of hundreds of participants from the agricultural and food industries. F20 attendees will set priorities for a sustainable future for the agricultural sector, which they will then present to the G20 Agriculture Working Group. The G20 summit of world leaders is set to be held in Australia on 15 and 16 November.