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Dealing with the Dry: former agribusiness banker and agronomist Garry Littlejohns offers drought management advice

Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) Dealing with the Dry forum
Photo: GRDC

Former agribusiness banker and agronomist Garry Littlejohns offers drought-affected grain growers insights into how they can talk with their financial lenders..

As a former agribusiness banker and agronomist Garry Littlejohns is uniquely placed to offer drought-affected grain growers insights into how they can talk with their financial lenders about debt management and carry-on finance.

Mr Littlejohns was a key speaker at a series of Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) Dealing with the Dry forums held across southern Queensland and northern New South Wales recently.

"I was an agronomist for 15 years, worked in banking for 12 years and then returned to agronomy last year, so hopefully I can offer growers some practical advice about how to work with their financiers to get through these challenging times," he said.

The Tamworth-based professional was one of a group of presenters involved in the GRDC forums, which were initiated to bring specialist advice on topics such as agronomy, farm business, government support and debt management direct to regional communities.

GRDC Grower Relations Manager - North, Susan McDonnell, said the forums, captured in a new GRDC video series were about delivering practical information and support to grain growers in drought affected regions during some of the toughest seasons on record.

"It was invaluable to have someone with Garry's experience share insights into the impact the Royal Commission has had on the rural lending landscape, as well as offer tips on how to prepare for those potentially complicated conversations with your bank manager," Mrs McDonnell said.

"The forum feedback from Garry's presentation was overwhelmingly positive so we have made his talk available as a short video so more people can benefit from his knowledge."

Key messages from the former banker were:

  1. Communicate regularly with your bank;
  2. Prepare and have a clear business plan before you apply for carry-on finance; and
  3. Organise finance in advance so you are in a position to take advantage of a break in the season.

"Keeping in touch with your bank manager is critical. It is in their best interests for you to get through and be successful. Talk to them. Let them know how you are going, what your plan is and ask them how they view your position," Mr Littlejohns said.

"When it comes to applying for carry on finance have a business plan. Know your assets and liabilities. Have a budget and your business activity statements (BAS) up to date and a strategy if a) happens and a plan b)."

He said growers needed to be aware that banking changes post the Royal Commission meant lending approval processes tended to take longer as a result of additional due diligence and compliance requirements.

"What was once a two to five-day turnaround for lending approvals could now be four weeks, so growers need to be organised and proactive so they have the funds needed to take advantage of opportunities when the season breaks."

He said being prepared from an agronomy, business and financial perspective would be key to surviving and recovering from the drought.

"Being prepared and having seed and fertiliser on hand so you can plant when it does rain, as well as knowing what crops will suit what paddocks given the conditions will be critical," Mr Littlejohn said.

"Minimising risks is going to be important. Grow a crop you know you can get a result from.

"For many people, it is going to be very slow to lift out of this drought. But planning and being prepared will make a difference to how you, your farm and your business recovers."

The GRDC also has a dedicated web page to provide access to the latest research data and practical agronomic advice to assist with on-farm decision making.

The Dealing with the Dry page offers links to economic, agronomic, farming systems information and practical information on nutrient removal, ground cover, weed management and other impacts.

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