April 14, 2013
The big number of family businesses and independent companies servicing Australian agricultural speaks volumes about how highly farmers value personalised business relationships, says Delta Agribusiness boss Gerard Hines. “Independents are very strong here. That’s not the case in North America where corporates are big,” he said. Despite rural Australia’s lengthy ties with US machinery and technology companies he felt Americans were “still trying to get their mind around” how the farm inputs and service market worked here. Referring to Canadian-owned Agrium’s takeover of Landmark and the possibility of a foreign buyer for Elders, Mr Hines said the local marketplace was not only different, but such companies often faced challenges in retaining good staff. “Private businesses can allow staff a fair bit of autonomy to look after a client’s best interests, but when you have 2000 staff corporate structures make it hard to give them as much flexibility to make decisions,” he said. “I think there’s also a level of resistance to foreign investment in agriculture – despite the advantages it can bring. “Not everyone wants to support a lot of overseas-owned businesses here. “We certainly respect the big guys, but focus on our own overall offering to clients rather than getting caught up worrying about what the competitors do.” Delta Agribusiness’ market footprint was likely to edge further north in NSW and possibly across the Queensland border if the right opportunities arose. It already has a grain marketing office in Emerald. A key factor in the company’s growth and its quest to build broad relationships with clients has been a conservative focus on making use of “good local talent” at branch level. “Our business is based on much more than just selling product,” said Delta’s operations manager, John Pattinson. “We’re very much focused on the people we service – that includes having the right people in our network to do that. “Places like Lockhart, Temora or Burren Junction may not be big, but they are strong and fairly parochial communities so we like to be sure we have locals who can be part of our cultural fit if we’re expanding into new territory.” Delta received about 20 approaches from other independents keen to sell to, or join, its group last year, but only one, at Traingie, was followed through. “We hope to move more into summer cropping and cotton territory to diversify our geographic and business mix, but our goal is to maintain our discipline and not grow for growth’s sake,” said Mr Hines.