IF ever there was an agribusiness that offers a window on the diversity of life on the land, and insight into how rural communities and producers themselves are travelling, it's Mitch Highett's farm management company Bullseye Agriculture.
Mr Highett, who has been named a finalist in the Zanda McDonald Award, kicked off the business six years ago after working for a Sydney advisory and restructuring firm helping large corporations invest in agriculture.
He saw a gap where individual investors, as opposed to large companies, who wanted to move into farming needed help.
Today his team of five, based in the central west region of NSW, helps clients with everything from setting up a complete new farm system and property overhaul to just adding the brawn to someone else's plan.
That means any one of them can literally be in a board meeting discussing high-level investment one day and out fencing the next.
Along with Northern Territory veterinarian Charles Vaughan and Sarah Groat, development officer for government agtech program Farms of the Future, Mr Highett, 33, is in the running for the 2023 Australian crown in what is one of the most prestigious agricultural badges of honour.
Bullseye manages farms for investors or those with outside jobs who can't commit full time to life on the land. It's farms are predominantly in NSW and Queensland and in grazing.
Before founding his own business, Mr Highett farmed in Canada and the United Kingdom, along with several locations in Australia, before joining the Sydney firm.
Labour has been one of the biggest challenges Bullseye faces. Mr Highett said he could double his team overnight if he could find the right people.
"We rely heavily on contractors to get farm work done but even that is hard going these days," he said.
"That means for every one of us, the work really is very broad.
"The labour challenge has meant everyone in agriculture has had to really think about, and promote, what they can offer an employee that is different.
"At Bullseye, every day is very different - you're working on different farms, with different people and generally very autonomously. We reach out through our networks with that message.
"We also look to empower young people in senior roles early and offer to fund further education."
Off-farm investor growth
The investor interest in agriculture was increasing, Mr Highett said.
"All have different reasons but a lot want to show their kids where food, water and resources comes from," he said.
"And they'd rather spend their spare time on a farm than go to Italy.
"Also, no bones about it, investment in ag land in the past five years has outstripped many other asset classes."
The returns from strong commodity prices were largely being reinvested on-farm, Mr Highett said.
"Most of our clients have a long-term view. They want to pass on the farm to their kids," he said.
The investment was good news for rural communities, he said.
"Every investor needs the local community to help them run the farm, whether it be buying inputs and gear locally or bringing their friends out and spending up at the pub," Mr Highett said.
"Some of these farms have been run down and had become a weed haven. We're changing that and that makes neighbours happy."
Mr Highett felt there was plenty of optimism in agriculture at the moment, despite the challenges.
"While communities have suffered from massive amounts of water, that also gives some surety about the upcoming season," he said.
"Ag has never been immune from threats - there's always something - and we're pretty good at facing it head on and mitigating risk as best we can.
"We have a good image for the quality of our product in the wider world and that underpins strong demand for what we make."
The winners of the 2023 Zanda McDonald Award will be announced at a special Impact Summit in Brisbane in March.
Three finalists are also vying for the New Zealand arm of the award.
Both the Australian and the New Zealand winner will each pick up an impressive personal development package, including a fully personalised mentoring trip in both countries, $10,000 worth of tailored education or training, media coaching and other mentoring and industry opportunities.