In 2017, I decided to start up a new business, in what was also a new segment for me: an almond production and valuation company in the Beira Baixa region. I’m not an agronomist, and my career was built in technology, in Brazil. But I consider myself to be a manager whose is driven internally by restlessness, and I fell in love with agriculture.
In this article, I’m going to try to share my experience in the agribusiness and help my readers with tips and suggestions that made a difference to the project I’m now passionate about.
Having never worked or invested in agriculture, the first step I took was to seek knowledge to create this business. I believe we’re living in very privileged times, where the search for knowledge is at our fingertips. So, it’s up to us if we want to set up a business, to be enterprising and seek the necessary know-how. This search is an internal driver. We must be passionate about the business and really understand it as much as possible.
That said, it is important to point out that the agribusiness must be seen from a professional management perspective, that is, you have to really keep what is private separate from the business, which must be created to generate a margin. This requires detailed management, counting every penny. There are two indispensable variables in this segment: cost and productivity. These are variables that are under our control, as opposed to external variables such as climate, rain or hail for example. With the help of technology, we can try to monitor these external factors, although we cannot control how and if they will occur. The two variables I mentioned before, we can.
Speaking of technology, that’s the area I’m from, so I cannot disassociate it from agriculture. Nowadays, technology in the agribusiness is more than a reality: it is a requirement for productivity. The farming sector is undergoing heavy disruption and technology is its major ally to monitor and maintain productivity and profitability in a way that causes the least possible impact on the environment.
Specifically regarding our almond-growing, optimised irrigation is a great example of how technology is crucial for the business. In practical terms, almond trees consume a lot of water and at the same time, their root system is highly sensitive to excess water. Drenched soil and flooded areas end up asphyxiating the plant. In other words, in order for the almond tree to grow, you have to have the right amount of water, and technology helps us to gauge that. It’s important to make it clear that technology is here to help in management’s decision-making and to facilitate the daily work in the field, not to replace labour.
The people are the key to the success of any company, in any segment. In agriculture, this is much more evident, as it essentially depends on each employee who does the planting, tending, monitoring and picking. It is important to give them the opportunity to grow. The main point is to have a detailed understanding of what motivates people in the field, and to do so, we have to be close to the team, to foster creativity, group spirit and to always celebrate triumphs. Agriculture has the great advantage of enabling us to see things evolve: it’s palpable. So, celebrate each triumph with your team, local entities and partners. One of our mottoes is “small triumphs, great celebrations.”
Once you have all the necessary structure for the relevant business, it is essential to create partnerships with local entities such as universities, city councils and organisations. Involve the community in your project and get involved with local initiatives. That way you’re enhancing the value of the region, the economy and local projects.
Planning is a requirement in all areas of any company. In agriculture, it is a determining factor for success. I would highlight here two stages that prove the need to plan, specifically in a rural enterprise: care for the soil and the harvest.
An important phase in the agribusiness and that I understand is not valued so much is care for the soil. This stage is crucial, as we don’t initially see the problems that might appear in the future. Drainage, preparation, mapping, correction zone, earthmoving adjustment zone, among others, are very valuable requirements. They are very costly, but further down the line the fruits of all this care will be very clear.
The harvest is a phase involving a huge amount of work which takes place in a very short time-frame. The almond harvest lasts for approximately 45 days. As such, planning in advance the dates, the necessary equipment, machinery used, size of the team involved, flow and logistics makes this phase much more efficient. So, planning is the key word for the agribusiness.
Taking into account all the requirements I have learnt throughout my journey, structuring the business with professional vision, geared towards the culture of the team and supported by technology as an aid in decision-making, are determining factors for success. You also have to be driven, seek knowledge and never stop planning the activities that are vital for the business.
David Carvalho, CEO