‘Back-office support crucial for farmer success’ – Nampo 2024

The back-office support system within a farming operation is more than fulfilling those dreaded office responsibilities or administrative duties. These services are the farmer’s assurance that the business is running smoothly and optimally, and form the backbone of successful farming operations. By optimising support systems, a farmer can improve productivity and profitability.

‘Back-office support crucial for farmer success’ – Nampo 2024
At a recent Nation in Conversation session, the importance of ‘back-office support’ was discussed by Anlie Hattingh, eNCA anchor; Jaco Minnaar, farmer from Hennenman and Agri SA president; JP Meintjes, a farmer from Viljoenskroon; AC van Wyk, a farmer from Bultfontein; Vikar Sheopershad, John Deere Technical Marketing Planner; and Francois de Kock, Managing Executive of Agri Credit at Senwes.
Photo: Magda du Toit
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This was the point of discussion during a Nation in Conversation session that took place on 15 May at Nampo Park in Bothaville.

During the session, the panel explained the various components that form part of the back office and how these form the backbone of a successful farming operation.

READ The importance of good business and operations plans

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Anlie Hattingh, eNCA anchor, led the panel, and was joined by Jaco Minnaar, a farmer from Hennenman and Agri SA President; JP Meintjes a farmer from Viljoenskroon; AC van Wyk a farmer from Bultfontein; Vikar Sheopershad, John Deere Technical Marketing Planner; and Francois de Kock, Managing Executive of Agri Credit Solutions at Senwes.

The panel delved into the intricacies of a farmers’ well-equipped back office and discussed aspects such as financial management, technical assistance, information management, human resources, and the importance of the integration of these services.

The panel agreed that that these services must be optimised according to specific needs in order to enhance productivity and profitability for individual farmers.

“The optimisation of the services that are provided in the back office is crucial as these functions are integral to the smooth operation of the farming business. The back office must run smoothly to enable me, as a farmer, to focus on the core activity of farming. It must run smoothly while handling the complex administrative and support tasks,” Minnaar stated.

Minnaar, Meintjes and Van Wyk agreed that the back office is vital in optimising productivity and profit.

“The specific needs of the farming enterprise must firstly be analysed thoroughly before implementation of back-office activities. The first step should be to do a deep dive into the business with an analytical approach to determine what the specific needs are. You need to figure out what you really need. There are so many things a farmer must focus on and there is so much information available that it is important to implement a system that will streamline your business. Only after a proper need analysis will you be able to determine what is needed in the back office. It remain, important however, to remember that the final decision for the plan of action still lies with the farmer,” Van Wyk highlighted.

Van Wyk also warned that while looking “over the fence” to see what others are doing is fine, but that the systems that your neighbour is using might not be the best solution for your farm and business.

“You must determine what you really need. It is also important to see if it will be cost effective. You must always ask if a system of service will add value.”

“Fundamentally,” Van Wyk said, “the income is generated in the field. Therefore, implement a system in the office [that compliments] the core business. Keep the core focus and focus on the efficient running of the operation.”

Minnaar listed the three reasons for a back office: “It must help with control; it must support your business by improved organisation of functions and tasks; and it should improve intelligence so that you can make informed decisions.”

He added that the better the back office is, the better the decisions that a farmer makes will be.

“The back office must also comprise of people that actually buys into the business. They must support your vision and help with financial management and  strategic thinking in the business so that you can apply your expertise where you feel that it will add the most value,” Minnaar explained.

READ Best strategy and management practices

Meanwhile, De Kock explained how Senwes uses digital platforms like the Senwes app or WhatsApp to share information with producers to make things easier for them from inventory planning, and taking control of their grain stocks to deliveries.

De Kock stressed that when a farmer is looking at partners to help with the business, those business partners must understand the business.

“It is important that get advice from someone that understands your business. Choose them wisely,” he advised.

“With the amount of data being collected, it is important how the data used. The business information contained in the data must be unlocked to be of use. The information needs to collaborate within all the functions,” he pointed out.

According to Sheopershad, John Deere is offering tools to farmers that can simplify certain operations and take of the pressure.

“This can give a farmer time to focus on other functions or run other parts of the business. The John Deere Operations Center, for example, provides a single, secure place to monitor, organise, analyse, and share data. We are providing farmers with excellent machines, as well as with the precision tools they need to monitor, manage, and maximise their farm operations every season.”

With regards to human resources, the panel agreed that staff management forms a critical part of any business and that appointing the right people in specific jobs was crucial for success.

Van Wyk stated that modern farming operations dictates new approaches.

“Farms are getting larger and increasingly run according to corporate principles. We need to change our mindsets and approach. Finding people that fits your business is important as they will be part of your success. It can be very rewarding,” he said.

Meintjes concluded by pointing out that technology was moving fast and warned that if a farmer is not in the technology space today, those farmers may be left behind as it will be very difficult and expensive to catch up.

“They need to get on the tech journey. Technology is your friend; embrace it, use it. You will get your return on investment. Use the back office to combine financial and production data. It will make your life easier.”

Minnaar agreed and pointed out that the back office can help farmers survive in difficult times as they will have multi-year data available that can be analysed and used to manage challenges.

He also stressed that it was important for farmers to share data so that best practices can be adapted and used to guide farmers through difficult times.

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Magda du Toit is a freelance communication consultant and journalist. She has worked in the agriculture sector for more than 35 years. She obtained a BA in Communication (Hons), and also completed a Post-Graduate Diploma in Marketing Management. Throughout her career she has received recognition and various awards for individual and team contributions. She was also the chairperson of the northern branch of Agricultural Writers SA and still serves on both its executive bodies. Magda is also the South African representative at the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists, where she chairs one of the committees.