Musings on the Fundamentals of Cricket and Excellent Farming

I’m a cricket fan. I love it. As a child, I bowled endless overs of “fast“ Dennis Lillee style bowling interspersed with Jim Higgs leg spinners with my older brothers for hours until finally they had hit me over the fence for six and out. I didn’t get much batting practice as they tended to call drinks or tea every time it was my turn to bat and head in for an episode of Get Smart.

Back then it was unfashionable to be obsessed with leg spin but my older brothers were and it was contagious. This was in the late 70s and early 80s when the West Indies Fast Bowling attack and our own Thommo and Lillee were the superstars. This was well before Shane Warne made leg spin popular with kids.

Jim Higgs was a Victorian leg spinner from Kyabram. He played 22 Test matches between 1978 and 1981 when Bob Simpson led a World Series Cricket depleted Australian men’s Test Cricket team.

Cricket writer Gideon Haigh regards Jim Higgs as “Australia’s best leg spinner between Richie Benaud and Warne”. In fact, Jim Higgs went on to teach a young guy called Shane Warne the flipper down at St Kilda Cricket Club.

Jim’s mother grew up on the farm next door to my Dad. (She’s the sister-in-law of Joy in my previous blog post).

Our household was very excited to have a connection to a test cricketer, so the fundamentals of leg spin became a bit of thing.

Photo credit © Herald Sun

When I read the prose of cricket writers like Gideon Haigh, they often remark that the true stars have classic fundamental attributes or fundamentals for short.

Be it their personal tributes of patience, persistence, commitment, motivation, curiosity; their technical skill of batting, bowling, fielding or wicketkeeping or their ability to string it all together. How to craft a patient innings as a top order batsman? How to create pressure as a spinner and work in tandem with the patient consistent strike bowler to build and build that pressure until the wickets fall.

I think of fundamentals as the rules in the book that are not worth breaking. You can try to get around them but in cricket, your weaknesses get exposed in the long form of the game.  Freakishly talented players coming through via 20-20 or one-day cricket, either have the fundamentals instinctively or they struggle and can’t hold their spot in the Test team. They learn the hard way that training and coaching and practice will give them the hours to acquire these fundamentals and then the rewards flow.

Excellent Farming isn’t that different to Test cricket. To be able to play the long game, there are personal attributes that essentially come down to emotional intelligence, there are business structure fundamentals such as liquidity and a cost base that suits the scale of the operation. There is technical skill to grow primary produce as efficiently and cost effectively as possible. This is all done while managing the risks that present internally and externally. It’s like the classic Test series.

Does focussing on fundamentals stop you from playing your own game though?

Indeed not. Professor Ross Kingwell (Australian Export Grains Innovation Centre & UWA) and his colleagues from Department of Food and Agriculture Western Australia undertook extremely detailed studies of farm performance of 249 farm businesses in southern Western Australia during the millennial decade. This was a decade of extreme climate volatility. They concluded that “The unique and particular characteristics of each farm business were the main determinant of their business success”. You are probably thinking what about rainfall?  As a dry witted member of a farm discussion group once said, “even optimists and pessimists get the same amount of rain”.

The Western Australian work is supported by similar studies on the East Coast and farm advisors would agree with this observation.

The Kingwell Report and the East Coast studies also concluded that despite this individuality there are common factors among the successful performers.

Each farm business is different and has its own style, but underlying that success is a series of non-negotiable fundamentals. I’ve spent the best part of 20 years trying to unravel those fundamentals and here’s my summary based on evidence and experience.

High performing broadacre farm businesses, regardless of who owns them, have the following in common which keep these thriving businesses continually returning twice the profit as the average farm business.

The Excellent Farming Fundamentals

Passionate Effective People

Capable of crucial leadership of self and others

Highly Productive

Capable of cost-effective conversion of water to grain or animal produce

Practical risk management

Profit Focused

Understand profit components and drivers

Understand cost management principles

This is the first of a series of posts exploring the Fundamentals of Excellent Farming.

Kingwell, R, Anderton, L, Islam, N, Xayavong, V, Wardell-Johnson, A, Feldman, D & Speijers, J 2013, Broadacre farmers adapting to a changing climate, National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility, Gold Coast, 171 pp

Graetz T, Sherriff C and Vogt S (2018) ‘The profitable integration of cropping and livestock in southern Australia’. Meat and Livestock Australia Limited Locked Bag 1961 NORTH SYDNEY NSW 2059 The profitable integration of cropping and livestock in Southern Australia

Stay tuned. Stay well.