An innovative entrepreneur from the grains industry is crediting a professional development course - offered by Tocal College through the AgSkilled program - with bringing a new level of efficiency to her business in south west New South Wales.
Sarah Curry (pictured second from left) runs Majors Mulch, from her family's cropping enterprise on The Bland, near Quandialla.
Her business produces sustainably made garden mulch pellets, which are sold through nurseries across southern Australia.
Mulch production goes hand-in-hand with Mrs Curry's family's grain growing operation on their 3650 hectare property, Major's Point.
Spark of idea to diversify
Mrs Curry worked as a retail agronomist before joining the family farming business with her husband Josh.
She came up with the concept for mulch pellets when she needed some 'easier to handle' options while juggling gardening and pregnancy.
"Essentially, the mulch pellets are made out of by-products from our cropping operation," she says.
"The concept has proved really appealing to fellow gardeners - and I now sell into nurseries in Sydney and Melbourne."
But juggling her growing wholesale operation with her farm business commitments, plus three small children, has its own challenges and the innovative young mum decided there was room to improve how efficiently and effectively she was handling the first two roles.
In 2019, Mrs Curry enrolled in Tocal's Generating Regionally Outstanding Women (GROW) course - managed and delivered by Bec Fing, of House Paddock Training and Consulting, as part of the AgSkilled initiative - to finesse her time management skills and professionalise her approach to everything from on-farm staff inductions to agreements with contractors.
AgSkilled is a direct partnership between GRDC, Cotton Australia, Training Services NSW and the Department of Education.
It was developed to support training to ensure the grain and cotton workforce was well prepared for the future.
The GROW program was designed to help participants develop their skills in:
- time management;
- planning and organisation;
- communications and networking;
- staff and team management;
- industrial relations; and
- work health and safety.
"I can't recommend the GROW course enough," Mrs Curry says.
"It absolutely changed the way I was operating both the farm and my wholesale business.
"It also importantly connected me with a network of like-minded women from the grains and cotton sectors.
"I did a series of face-to-face sessions - each followed by homework - but what appealed to me was it was all completely practical and you could implement what you learnt straight away."
It absolutely changed the way I was operating both the farm and my wholesale business.
Mrs Curry says, for example, the course trainer - Bec Fing - showed participants how to set up very practical structures, such as work health and safety plans, agreements with contractors and staff induction templates, that provide everyone with clear outlines of expectations.
"I could also implement these improvements very quickly and easily," she says.
"For example, I went home and inducted the two staff we had starting on the farm.
"We have two graduates from a Danish agricultural college arrive each year to work with us through harvest, so proper inductions are critical for our workplace health and safety."
Mrs Curry says other key learnings from the GROW course centred on issues such as improved time management.
"My time management was all over the place, but the course helped me determine key areas to focus on and brought clear structure to what I was doing daily," she says.
"Learning as part of a group really worked well for me too, because we shared experiences and practical examples of our business systems and that combined knowledge was incredibly helpful.
"Even now, six months since after the course, I am still regularly referring back to both the GROW manual and the network of women I connected with through the course.
"They have become a critical sounding board for our business and that's been invaluable."
Course details for 2020
AgSkilled co-ordinator Claudia Vicary says other women can enrol in an AgSkilled GROW course, but the initiative finishes on June 30.
"The AgSkilled program has been going for three years and has seen over 3000 people from the grains and cotton industries upskilled," she says.
"During that time, the GROW course has been one of the most popular development programs on offer - so we would really like to see as many people as possible take advantage of this final course."
Ms Vicary says the GROW course will be offered online and was open to those involved in the cotton and grains industry across NSW - but applications close shortly.
"This is the final call for enrolments in the GROW program, as well as the other professional development courses also offered under the AgSkilled initiative," she says.
Other courses include the THRIVE course, which is focused on improving individual productivity for business and personal progress, as well as the Workplace Health and Safety and Human Resources (WHS&HR) fundamentals course.