When Merrigum dairy farmer Jamie Snell undertook a Gardiner Nuffield Scholarship in 2007, he didn’t know that it would still resonate 15 years later.
As Jamie goes through the next important phase in his farming career, the Nuffield experience continues to drive his passion for checking facts and science and asking the tough questions.
Jamie has never been shy about verifying facts and wanting everything in order, and as he and sonographer wife Anne enter generational change with son Michael and daughter-in-law Jane, the Nuffield experience is holding him to good stead.
Although he did the scholarship 15 years ago with support from Gardiner Dairy Foundation, Jamie says “you never stop being a Nuffield Scholar”.
“I’ve always had a natural curiosity and from the Nuffield I tend to question things a lot more and always tell people not to be scared to ask a question,” he said.
Jamie’s Nuffield research centred on family farm succession, success in farm business and opportunities for new entrants.
“If I was to re-write my report today, I suspect it would be significantly different but some of the fundamentals remain the same,” he said. “When I looked at the definition of succession planning, it’s basically plan, communicate, affirm, implement and then review and those topics are still relevant and you can flesh them out.”
In what Jamie describes as generational change, Michael and Jane have taken on a share farming role and will have more opportunities to grow their stake in the herd and land. Michael and Jane are responsible for management of the farm and herd, while Jamie oversees the irrigating and cropping.
Their other children, Katherine, Xavier and Matt have also been involved in the discussions.
At 63, Jamie thinks a successful succession plan will give him time and capacity to do what he wants while keeping a hand in the business. He also wants an opportunity to transfer knowledge and encourage the new generation to build good relationships with suppliers and bankers.
“While I want to step back and slow down, I don’t want to let go of what I’ve got while I’m healthy enough to do it,” he said. “I see an opportunity to transfer knowledge and give an opportunity to grow equity and wealth.
“While I still have ownership and some input into the business, if further opportunities arise to expand, we’ve got the ability to leverage the total amount of the business and my relationships.”
“Michael and Jane are aware they couldn’t afford to buy the business outright within a short time frame, and I couldn’t get the same return on investment if I had that money in the bank instead of in the farm and the cows, particularly in the last three years when the value of the farm and the cows has gone up so much.”
Jamie is a strong believer that share farming is one of the best routes for getting a foothold in the industry.
The Snell farm covers nearly 350 hectares and milks just over 400 cows. It is well placed for change. “We’ve been able to expand, consolidate and put scale to the farm business, which is important if you’re going through generational change,” Michael said.
“Ultimately, we will see a change in the farm business and we have to plan for that.
Jamie has always encouraged young farmers and says those with questions on their mind should consider applying for a Nuffield Scholarship.
“Nuffield is a fantastic way to do research and it opens many doors,” he said. “I’ve sat in rooms with senior American and UK government bureaucrats, I’ve been at a function with Arnold Schwarzenegger, then I was out in the paddock with mud on my gumboots looking at irrigation in California with a contact I tracked down through Nuffield.”
Jamie says his Nuffield experience still resonates. “I had been heavily involved with agricultural politics before the Nuffield but I didn’t get involved afterwards because I felt more attached to bigger issues.”
He sat on a government drought response group, was organising chairman of the Australian Dairy Conference and linked into European Dairyfarmers, opening more doors for contacts and hosting young people on his farm to share knowledge and give them a start in the industry.
“Nuffield stays with you, with the doors it opens, the context it creates and it really helps you clarify ideas and work through situations.”
Applications for the 2023 Nuffield Farming Scholarship are now open and will close Friday, 17 June 2022.