ZAB 101 - Agribusiness Management Introduction to Agribusiness

Welcome to Agribusiness Management. In this subject we will:

  • Introduce the field of agribusiness and the management of agribusinesses, with a particular focus on small to medium enterprises.
  • Explain why and how businesses are typically managed, emphasising the specific context of agribusinesses where biological processes underpin production systems and managers grapple with uncertainties such as weather, markets and exchange rates.
  • Explore the external environment in which agribusinesses operate, how managers make and communicate decisions and how contemporary challenges such as food safety and traceability, sustainability and ethics are incorporated into agribusiness management.

Let's begin by looking at what agribusiness is.

Defining management in an agribusiness context

These are the things that you, as agribusiness managers will need to hone your knowledge and skills in.

Over the next few weeks, we will drill down into the theory and practice of management, all the time referring to the characteristics that make management in an agribusiness context different to managing businesses in other contexts.

But before we get into that detail, I think it will be really useful for you moving through this subject, and the rest of the Agribusiness Associate Degree, if you can get your head around the idea of management, in an agribusiness context, being outcomes oriented and purposeful: it’s not just something you do for the hell of it.

I think it’s useful to look at it through a simple ‘why, who, what, where, how’ filter. Let’s think of it as a target:

Our ‘why’, right there in the middle as the target is our business goals and purpose. These may be financial goals, but often they’re also about lifestyle and doing something that you’re passionate about and interested in.

Management, then, is about dealing with the challenges and opportunities that that business environment presents us with, so that we can achieve the objectives of the business. Agribusiness management is about the things that we can make decisions about in the context of where we operate, what we produce, how we produce it and who do we produce it for.

Where: What location(s) does the agribusiness operate in? Does this location enable and constrain us? Where are our markets? Where are our suppliers?

How: How do we produce our product? What values underpin it? What business model do we use?

What: What do we produce? Are we producing something that our customers need or want?

Who: Who are we and what do we stand for? What are our values? Who are our customers? What do they stand for? If we can match our values and needs with our customers’ values and needs or wants, we’re onto a real winner from a business sustainability point of view.

Therefore, the who, how, what and where are really our ‘matters for management’ if you like, the things that managers can influence in order to achieve their business goals and purpose – their ‘why’.

There are a range of ‘tools’ or mechanisms that we can use to have an influence or make change in each of our ‘matters for management’. These include:

Technology: new practices and technologies that improve efficiency, effectiveness or just enable things to be done that couldn’t be done before.

Innovation: introducing something new; making changes that can be both ‘radical’ and ‘incremental’. Here, economists like to add the concept that innovation must lead to added social and/or economic value. Thomas Edison is attributed with the quote: “The electric light didn’t come from the continuous improvement of candles” and this encapsulates the concept that innovation is more than just continuous improvement – it’s about generating ideas, testing or prototyping them, doing trialls and redesigning things (product features or processes, for example), and seeing if they have commercial and/or social value.

Human capacity building: through education and training, supporting people and helping them apply their skills and knowledge against clear goals – i.e. to align their skills and interests to the outcomes you and/or they want to achieve.

Making decisions based on evidence: Identifying what data you need and how that needs to be analysed in order to enable you to make good decisions.

Financing: attracting investment capital and enabling financing of business operations and capital improvements.

Marketing and Communications: clarifying messages so that the message sent and the message received is the same.

Modifying growing conditions: for example, irrigation, closed-environment agriculture like glasshouses.

Modifying soil: for example, adding nutrients, soil conditioners, biomass.

Controlling pests and diseases: which products and processes will you use and how will this relate to your business goals, values and marketing messages.

These are all things that you need to know as a manager in the agribusiness world, to achieve your goals and/or those of your business partners, shareholders and investors. Every unit in your Associate Degree in Agribusiness is focused on equipping you with the skills you will need to manage all of the variables that operating an agribusiness will throw at you.

In the first year, the Associate Degree will focus on more of the business management aspects. In year 2 you will focus more on the agronomic aspects of production management. But in all cases, what I’d like to emphasise here is that agribusiness management is essentially focussed on how innovation, science and technology help agribusinesses to find their niche and ultimately survive and thrive in often challenging climatic, biological, political and social settings.

Successful agribusiness managers will recognise the peculiarities of the agribusiness context and put in place measures to make allowances for those challenges. In agribusiness, management is always about being proactive, not reactive to those peculiarities of the environment within which we operate.

So, how is this unit designed and delivered?

This unit is designed to allow you to zoom in and out of the agribusiness world, encouraging you to think broadly about the trends and influences on agribusiness. There will be video stories about different agribusinesses, some in Tasmania, some from elsewhere. We will also be using examples from the broader business world, to give you insight into the fact that whilst agribusinesses have their own peculiarities, they are businesses too and there is a lot we can learn from the broader business world.

Throughout the term, we will introduce topics to you through our MyLO modules. These will then be explored further in our tutorials, fieldtrip and assignments. For most modules you will have 2 weeks to work through them, as tutorials are run every 2nd week. Our MyLO modules include some reading and videos you need to work through and some activities and tasks you are encouraged to complete, preferably before participating in our tutorials and fieldtrip. Learning in this blended way enables you to learn about particular agribusiness management topics, then about how these apply to particular businesses and agribusinesses. This method of learning also lends itself to students reflecting on your learning as you go, trying different tools and ideas out, contributing to your Agribusiness Practice Journal and building your portfolio. More on that in our week 1 tutorial.

Each time I ask you to watch a video or do the readings, I’ll be asking you some fairly broad questions for you to reflect upon and think about while you’re watching and reading to do some thinking and jotting down of notes in your Agribusiness Practice Journal.

The particular topics we are going to cover this term are:

Week's 2 & 3

The ‘operating environment’ of agribusiness & business purpose and goals.

Week's 4 & 5

Introduction to agribusiness planning & planning for integrity and quality.

Week's 6 & 7

Introduction to business structure & organisation design.

Week's 8 & 9

Introduction to decision making, communication & building change-ready workplace cultures.

So let's get started!


Created with images by 3dman_eu - "cows curious cattle" • Bergadder - "bale straw agriculture" • skeeze - "fresh peppers farmers market open air" • StateofIsrael - "Agriculture" • Hans - "short disc harrow harrow short slices" • StateofIsrael - "Agriculture" • Ronald (Ron) Douglas Frazier - "King Corn. The Illinois harvest underway." • romanboed - "Dutch Spring"

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