Strategic Thinking

From June 17th to 23rd, farmers from all over the world gathered in the Netherlands for the sixth edition of the Rabobank Global Farmers Master Class. During intensive Strategic Thinking sessions, participants were given the knowledge, tools, inspiration and peer-to-peer feedback to develop and gear up their strategies for the future.

‘During the first two parts of this threefold edition of the Master Class, we asked participants what kept them awake at night. Many of them struggle with questions about how to strategically anticipate fast changing customer demands while simultaneously dealing with declining and more volatile margins.,’ says Banking for Food Inspiration Centre’s Marjan van Riel. ‘So, per their request, in the 2017 program we developed a dedicated session focusing on strategic thinking, strategy building and – execution.’ Professor of Strategy & Marketing Damien McLoughlin, who moderated this day-long session, underlined the importance of strategy building in agriculture: ‘purchasing behaviour of millennials, the increasing distrust, the decline in major brands, the collapse of major categories; all these developments are starting to reverberate down the supply chain, all the way to the level of the farmer. So farmers need to think far more strategically about their role in the supply chain and far more significantly about where that supply chain is headed the next 20 or 30 years.’

Participants were asked to prepare thoroughly for this session, ‘bringing in their own strategic questions, context, challenges and opportunities,’ Marjan adds. A strategy is more than a plan or budget; it is aimed at creating value, not per se growth. Building a strategy implies various steps including e.g. asking what are the right questions, where and how do we make money, what future do we need to plan for, what are potential pathways to winning and how do we drive change? During the session, participants learned about the foundations and tools of strategy building answering those questions while applying them on real live cases brought in by the participants.
Participant Ashley Wiese from Three Farmers Quinoa, said: ‘we have invested in becoming the first mainland Australian quinoa growers and have progressed into processing and marketing it through Australia’s largest supermarket chain. As the market has matured and, prices have fallen we have some big decisions to make, which we actually held off making, anticipating more clarity after this session. I feel fortunate to have had some great experts and amazing farmers in the room, who had an in depth look at our business and gave me honest feedback in terms of what they would do if it was their business.’

Asked about his single most important advice to rural entrepreneurs, Damien said: ‘farmers spend a lot of time thinking about the problems they have to solve today, tomorrow, this growing season. But there is so much change in the food supply chain, on the consumer side, on the retail side; farmers need to get a line of sight on the next thirty years. Think what the food industry would look like in thirty years’ time, and then position yourself for that activity, today.’

Additional key themes in the Master Class program included:

  • Dairy deep dive
  • Storytelling as a tool to respond to media attention and to proactively present agricultural businesses
  • A pressure cooker innovation session addressing tomorrows trends, today.