Producers have many types of capital they’re constantly juggling to optimise on-farm results. From finances to soil and water – this balancing act is critical to efficiently growing high-quality food and fibre.
However, spend some time talking to Riverina district producer, Peter Tuohey, and it soon becomes clear one of his greatest priorities is the capital of people.
Investing in relationships and building shared responsibility have helped Peter and his wife, Caroline, build a productive irrigated cropping and agricultural contracting business over the past 25 years.
Peter & Caroline Tuohey
Riverina district producers
“We have a great team of good people,” Peter said.
“We can’t be here all the time and we can’t make all the decisions on our own, so we need well-trained and confident employees and the support of service providers.
“Australian farmers face regular challenges, and we have to be nimble and adapt as a result. I think we do this very well and produce food and fibre in a way that takes care of the people and environment it comes from.”
After starting out in agricultural contracting, Peter bought his first farm at Carrathool in 1995, and has since acquired two more nearby properties. All three have now been developed for irrigation from the Murrumbidgee River and artesian bores to grow cotton, corn, wheat, barley and faba beans.
And, in their downtime from managing three properties, a contracting business, seven full-time employees and up to 20 seasonal workers, the Tuoheys were part of the group of founding shareholders of the grower-owned cotton gin RivCott, where Peter remains a current Director.
Prioritising the success and wellbeing of a highly skilled and motivated team seems to be a fundamental reason the balls of this juggling act are kept in the air. This includes providing opportunities to staff to become partners in jointly owned ventures, with the couple now having interests in cotton and freight businesses which are 25 per cent funded by staff and run as a partnership.
“We back our employees. We want them to enjoy what they’re doing, and we look to see where we can advance to a partnership status in areas where their interests lie,” Peter explained.
“It is a bit of a leap of faith, which is maybe why it isn’t too common, but our experience is that partnering with employees makes them more motivated, gives them a new perspective of being an employer instead of an employee, and shows others working here there is a long-term career path they may not have thought of.
“We also benefit by expanding our business with a partner we know well and being able to earn more off-farm contracting revenue in dry years.”
This care for employees is also evident when Peter talks about their approach to safety.
“One thing we’re working on is creating a culture where people are encouraged to report near misses. If we know what causes accidents, we are more likely to avoid them, so we don’t want anyone to feel they’ll get in trouble for speaking up about a near miss,” he said.
It’s this attention farmers have to nurturing people and the environment that Peter hopes consumers will be more aware of.
“Coronavirus has been a big wakeup call to consumers who until recently have had relatively few disruptions to their purchasing routines. I hope people remember that when they were facing product supply challenges, one thing they didn’t have to worry about was food availability,” Peter said.
“I really hope consumers support Australian agriculture and buy Australian when they can.”