Multiplicity of Regenerative Business Models
With an aim of developing a regenerative business, we work through our holistic planning process and need to decide on regenerative business models that fits our circumstance and our Holistic Context (Holistic Goal). The model that you choose needs to fit your requirements and may be very different to others around you.
Within a productive and resilient agricultural sector maybe we should mimic nature in having biodiversity of the types of regenerative business models and enterprises across the landscape. This allows the landscape and the agro-ecological system to be more resilient to changes in climate, markets, political and policy changes and social changes. As things change it impacts each business differently and so allow many more to survive. So you can have small farms and large farms, corporate and family owned, export focused, domestic focused and locally focused. And we also need to be willing to adjust our business model over time as our situation changes and most importantly change to one that satisfies your context for your family. We should also be open to new models.
I recently was in the UK and stayed at a farm B and B near Stonehenge. Before we arrived I had no idea about the farm we were visiting and we chose the location for a convenient place to stay for the night. On arrival we met the owners James and Harriet and soon worked out that we had close connections with Harriet having worked in our home town in Australia for a year previously. James offered to show me around “their farm” which I gladly accepted. Now the quoted “their farm” was because James and his family have been farmers for five generations on this land BUT have never owned the land. They are fifth generation of tenant farmers. This is something that is not really heard of in Australian. It was strange to drive around the more than 5000 acres of land they had with cropping enterprises and over 500 head of cattle (very big by UK standards) and realise that they did not own any of the land. The current owners are the Ministry of Defence, and for James that adds a level of complexity on top (like planting a crop and having tanks drive through it on training exercises). But for James and his family they are in the business of farming and not land ownership.
So, with the current drive for more young people to come back into farming, maybe we need to get our peak bodies and governments to support farming as a business separate to land? When we analyse and benchmark farm businesses we always separate the land business from the production business – your land business should be able to pay you a wage, pay for the use of the land and make a profit. Yes…all of those things!
Examples of Regenerative Business Models
There are other examples of grazing businesses that are separate from land ownership. Two we know from the US are Woolly Weeders – Napa Valley Lamb and Kaos Sheep Outfit (video below). Each of these businesses are focused on their production of a product with no land ownership. In the case of Woolly weeders they provide a weeding and mowing service which then produces a great meat product. Don Watson, the owner of Woolly Weeders, says that the partnership he has with land owners is win-win. They get a service at a cheaper cost to their “normal” management and he gets access to land to create a product.
Kaos Sheep Outfit also provides a similar service and discuss the similar win-win relationship that Don discusses. The added focus for them is looking at the ecological benefits that they are providing to the vineyard operation. And in this case they are staking enterprises onto land that provide a higher return then that would otherwise not be possible.
If you are a cattle producer then a great example of success of a production business on leased land is Greg Judy (No Risk Ranching). In his book he take you through the process and background to what he has done to be a successful cattle grazier on leased land. And I mean all the detail! This is a a fantastic book.
So what are the opportunities in Australia? Well there are examples of leasing for grazing that are around – Leasing land: one step closer to buying your own parcel – we also know of land in many areas laying vacant owned by overseas investors that are looking for secure long term investment and themselves not interested in running the farming business. So keep your eyes posted on land as you travel around and ask local agents about blocks you see – they always seem to know whats going on.
Jonai Farm and Meatsmiths in Australia is an example of a farm with a business model that is growing in grazing and food production. Tami and Stuart moved to their farm and and started their enterprise in 2011. This 69 hectare farm would be a very small one by Australian standards, but with a model that includes direct sale of product to a Community Support Agriculture (CSA) membership, on farm butchery and a variety of courses to engage with customers and other farms, Jonai has a business model that is profitable and completely transparent. Tami and Stuart have looked at their desired level of “wealth” and built a business that satisfies that in terms of dollars, plant outcomes and personal satisfaction. They gave a cap on the size of their CSA which then allows others to also participate in the delivery of food – so it is not a growth model business – a win-win regenerative business model.
[EDIT] A new venture with a different model is Harcourt Organic Farming Co-op – “In October 2018 we launched a brand new model that has made our farm much more productive while allowing us to take a less active role—the Harcourt Organic Farming Co-op (HOFC). HOFC is a collaboration of diverse organic farmers who lease land on our farm. They are passionate about learning their craft, feeding their community, and making direct and meaningful connections with their customers, for example through Community Supported Agriculture.” This co-op now has four business members all operating on the original farm land that Katie and Hugh transferred management to. A great example of thinking outside the box!
These are just a few examples of businesses and their regenerative business models that allow for a new way of thinking about what and how we do things in farming and in our communities. For more examples follow us on Facebook where we share stories of others that we meet from Australia and abroad.