The COVID-19 Pandemic has presented great challenges across the globe and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future as governments tread a fine line between the very real public health concerns and trying to jumpstart faltering economies.
For most of us, a pandemic such as COVID-19, is something we have never previously experienced. From an Australian perspective, I have noticed a renewed interest in where our products are being sourced and certainly a greater appreciation for our farmers.
Although it may seem a little premature, I have decided to reflect on what COVID-19 lessons I have learnt so far, from my experiences as a Director of RSM and from interactions with my farming clients.
The three areas that I will look at from a farming perspective are supply chains, the workforce and communications with advisers.
COVID-19 has been a timely reminder for a lot of us that we may have taken supply chains for granted.
From a farming perspective, it would appear that many farmers assumed that cropping inputs, for example, would be readily available and didn’t pay much attention to locking in supply of fertilizer, crop chemicals and fuel.
Corporate farmers on the other hand seem to recognise early on that supply of inputs could be an issue and acted accordingly to lock in suppliers.
My takeaway on this is that historically farmers may have been reluctant to lock in supply for fear that prices for inputs might drop. A more pragmatic view might be that, where there is global uncertainty, you can reduce business risk overall by locking in supply, even though you may end up paying a small premium for doing so.
Seasonal workers including backpackers from overseas play a very significant role for a lot of business owners in Australia.
It is stating the obvious that due to restrictions on travel to Australia and even within Australia, COVID-19 has been a major disrupter of this labour source.
Farmers, for example, who are relying on backpackers to make sure crops are planted in a timely manner and then later, harvested, have had to be quite innovative this year in putting crops in.
My thoughts are that farmers who put a lot of effort into making their seasonal workers have a great working experience (in part by providing comfortable accommodation, healthy nutritious meals and recreational activities) are best placed to survive this labour shortage.
The reason for this is these farmers are more likely to have seasonal workers return or recommend the farmer to other seasonal workers.
Retention of quality permanent workers should always be a priority for farmers, even more so in the middle of a pandemic.
Management of staff in recent times has been challenging across all sectors of the economy and ultimately a test of leadership.
The biggest lesson that I have learnt so far is that employees are looking for regular, clear and consistent communications from employers and managers.
My takeaway from our recent experiences is that it is more important than ever to position your business as an employer of choice in an environment where labour is a scarce resource.
Communications with clients
A silver lining from COVID-19 is that advisers and clients have been compelled to find different ways to have meetings resulting in a rapid uptake of technology such as zoom or skype.
We have also experienced an increase in electronic delivery of financial statements, tax returns and other information along with providing clients with electronic signing options.
There is a certain irony in that while we have been socially distancing, we may have actually improved our client communications and delivery of information.
Cloud accounting programs such as Xero have also enabled clients and advisers to make timely decisions.
Perhaps the best example of this is how quickly we could determine eligibility of clients for JobKeeper based on the up to date data in a cloud accounting program.
The takeaway from a farming perspective is that technology is a great enabler and there is no reason now why farmers who may be in quite remote locations can’t have access to professional advice in a timely manner, which should result in more informed decisions being made, even in the middle of a pandemic.
HOW CAN RSM HELP?
If you have any questions regarding COVID-19 primary producers and agribusiness, please get in contact with your local RSM office today.