Building a good relationship with your banker doesn’t normally involve spending a week or more with them on an overseas sojourn.
Increasingly, however that’s exactly what farmers are doing to make the most of agribusiness banking networks, gleaning useful insights from well beyond the boundary fence.
The past decade has seen a growing parade of study tours involving farmers and other agribusiness players heading overseas to absorb first hand the complexity, competitiveness and culture, and the opportunities, in markets outside Australia.
“I didn’t bring back any bolt-on technology to use in my business next week, but we got a good feel for what’s happening and great interaction with Austrade officials, banking staff and technology experts not normally on our radar,” said West Australian graingrower Nick Gillett, just back from Asia.
Mr Gillett, from Bencubbin, was one of 25 on ANZ Banking Group’s latest “Opportunity Asia” tour, which focused on ag technology and market developments in China and Japan.
Since 2015 ANZ has run four tours, with others centred on red meat and grain markets in China and Vietnam.
“It certainly felt like the bank was trying to upskill its customers with insights which will benefit us, the industry, and probably their business, too,” he said.
“It’s a win-win for everybody, right down to point that we spent a lot of time learning from the experiences of others on the trip – farmers and supply chain people from outside our own state.”
The week included meetings and site visits with Japanese high tech specialists at Hitachi and Fujitsu, supply chain players Swire Group and Amazon, and product marketers Murray Goulburn and Meat and Livestock Australia.
ANZ’s Australian agribusiness head, Mark Bennett, said the bank’s prominent footprint in Asia gave it a natural opportunity to link key producers and food and beverage sector marketers with off-shore markets and technical change agents.
“Farmers mostly only know of Asia in broad terms of big numbers and booming growth – markets now quoted in trillions and billions of dollars,” he said.
“If you can see some of these key issues for yourself, including the way the growing population is living and consuming, and who else is competing for their business, it gets you thinking and possibly responding differently when you return home.
“We want our customers to participate in things that can make their businesses better.”
The Japan-China trip’s focus on technology intended to get farmers considering options to help trim their own costs, improve supply chain strategies and anticipate future competition to their production systems.
It also aimed to highlight how fast technology advances were was changing life in Asia.
In the fast growing western inland Chinese “software city” of Chengdu – the production hub for most of the world’s Apple iPads and many other high-tech manufacturing and service activities – ANZ has direct ties with its thriving “technology generation”.
ANZ employs 750 staff in Chengdu providing operational and IT development support to bankers and customers back in Australia, part of a network of 20,000 staff in its Asia-Pacific “regional delivery network” stretching from Fiji to Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines and India.
All its Chengdu employees have undergraduate degrees and a third have masters degrees.
Chengdu, which has ballooned from five million to a 16 million population in 10 years, was typical of modern Chinese cities competing for prosperity and enjoying first world goods, services and foods, noted Mr Bennett.
“Producers returning to Australia after experiencing a trip to Chengdu understand we’ll never be a key commodity supplier fulfilling all these market’s massive needs, but China’s growth story will not stop,” he said.
“We need to reflect how our farmers need to make the most of what’s happening.
“Some may opt to focus on new farm cost control initiatives, others come back with confidence to expand or re-position their activities to get closer to specific Asian market service providers.”
Import opportunities back to Australia are also just as likely to arise once farmers or others in the sector start relating directly to new markets and building contacts, said National Australia Bank’s agribusiness general manager, Khan Horne.
“Knowledge really is power,” said Mr Horne, who has led tours to China, Indonesia, South America and South Africa involving farmers, selling agents, solicitors and farm consultants.
“Travelling with these groups is also a bit of a hothouse environment for ideas,” he said.
“You get best practice performers seeing how different industries are handling market openings.”
Rabobank’s approach is similar, selecting top producers to join regular global farmer masterclasses overseas or in Australia, which include farm tours and business development training sessions.
In August Rabo will also take almost 40 Australian graingrowers and bankers to the US Midwest to check out grain cropping, storage and marketing activities, including the Chicago Board of Trade and America’s largest outdoor farm event, the Farm Progress Show.
ANZ’s Mr Bennett, the travel experiences were “obviously invaluable” for Australian agribankers as much as their customers.
“If you’re spending a week with somebody you get a pretty good feeling for how they think about quite a lot of things, from their business priorities to their thoughts on our banking services.”
- Andrew Marshall travelled in Asia as a guest of ANZ