Science, people and money

Science, people and money

She’s an experienced agri strategist, passionate educator and respected speaker — Dr Kate Burke is on a mission to help Australians farm better.

In August, the Adelaide Convention Centre lit up with South Australia’s premier grain and livestock conference, Growing SA. The highly-anticipated event, hosted by Grain Producers SA and Livestock SA, attracted local and national producers to hear some of the biggest names in Australian agriculture discuss current issues, research and policy information. 

We were lucky enough to catch up with Growing SA’s keynote speaker, Agri Specialist Dr Kate Burke of Think Agri Pty Ltd. 

In the know 

As an independent farm consultant with a PhD in agronomy, experience in the corporate and commercial sectors, and a newly published book, Kate’s name is synonymous with trusted strategic advice and guidance to investors, agribusiness and family farmers around the nation. 

“I’m a kid from the bush,” Kate says. “I grew up on a family farm, trained in agriculture and got 30 years under my belt working in research, education, technical and business consulting, then commercial management for one of the largest grain producers in Australia. I got my hands dirty and learnt what it takes to run a profitable farm business from many angles.” 

Kate is motivated to share her learnings from working in both the technical and practical sides of farming for this generation and the ones that follow. She takes evidence-based data and puts it into real-world practice — and best of all, she speaks about complex issues in plain English, which is leaving a mark on people in and outside the agricultural industry. 

“I’ve worked in the country, in the city, across science and out on the land. I speak ‘rural’ and ‘corporate’, and I love connecting the dots of science, people and money. I’m really passionate about taking the best out of my experiences and what I’ve learnt, and using it to help others be better at farming and live a better life.”

A generous educator 

In her quest to share this unique insight, Kate’s rolled it all into a book — Crops People Money and You. The Art of Excellent Farming and Better Returns.

“There seemed to be a lot of either scientific or lifestyle farming literature on offer — very few were evidence based on commercial ag and an easy read, so I wanted to fill that gap,” Kate says.  

Available from the Think Agri website, the book delves into the fundamentals of people, crops and money. 

“In my search for clues to improve farm profitability over the years, I discovered some interesting patterns. The upper financial performers — 20 to 25 percent of farm businesses — consistently earned twice as much as their peers within their sector or region. The figures showed such a significant gap that I was compelled to check more reports, different regions, different sectors, and kept coming up with the same broad rule of thumb,” Kate explains. 

“The data suggests that profits are driven by productivity, the ability to grow that product cost effectively, the cost structure of the farm and human ability to achieve it. What got me excited is that across multiple sectors, farmers have the ability to significantly improve their profits with some careful guidance,” Kate explains.  

In some ways, the data didn’t surprise Kate, who had seen high variations in farming productivity and profit among farming communities over many years. “The very nature of agriculture — the fast pace, pressures and an oversupply of information — leaves little time for deep thought and asking why, what and how. 

“The answer was staggeringly clear yet buried deep in the language, graphs and interpretations of the reviewed works. Highly profitable businesses focussed on the fundamentals. They were run by passionate, motivated, effective people who were highly productive and focused on their crops (or products); they knew their business and were profit-focused.”

Sharing the love  

Just as prominent in her approach is Kate’s natural empathy and desire to put the ‘human’ element at the top of the list for good farming. “It’s so important to be aware of what’s happening in the industry locally and globally because there will be things that may have consequences, and you need to be able to adapt. But it’s just as critical to realise you can’t control a lot of that, and you can’t let that anxiety paralyse you from making productive decisions about what you can control.

“With so much uncertainty around (particularly for growers), it’s easy to get caught up in the victim mentality that we’re not in control, and that narrative is not true. Data and logic will help you make better decisions, as much as feeling good. Being less stressed is good for business!”

There’s no doubt that between her expertise and her positivity, Kate will continue inspiring many Australians for years to come. 

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