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Scholar Profile: 1983 Scholar Dr Tim Hutchings

Updated: Apr 22, 2020

Dr. Tim Hutchings is a successful farmer and farm consultant in the Riverina, NSW. He is a 1983 Nuffield Scholar and Researcher and has completed his PhD analysing and (for the first time) quantifying risk and volatility of our farming systems.

Please confirm family history and members including children, grandchildren?

I grew up on a farm near Henty, New South Wales, and remained there until we sold the property in 2008 and moved to Wagga Wagga. I have been married to my wife Di for 50 years, and together we have three sons, Simon, Jonathan and Jeremy, as well as ten grandchildren.

Please outline a brief version of your business history

After completing a Bachelor of Rural Science at the University of New England, I returned to the farm in 1968. As a third-generation farmer, we were sheep and crop producers, and were at the forefront of innovative methods, such as spreading super and growing clover. My Grandfather was a pioneer in many respects, and it was a privilege to continue his forward-thinking approach and manage the property for many years. During that time, we won various awards for state crop competitions. We were also a long-standing contributor to the Merino group-breeding scheme, Centre Plus, who have achieved a leading set of high-performance genetic traits. Most recently, I completed my PhD at Charles Sturt University on quantifying and measuring financial risk. During my time as a consultant, I realised that budgets never worked with mother nature interfering, so when the offer came up to do a post-grad on the topic, it was an easy answer!

How did you hear about Nuffield Farming Scholarships?

A friend of mine, Ian McMichael (1981 Sch), encouraged me to apply for a Nuffield Scholarship. Ian completed his scholarship a few years before and believed it would be a valuable opportunity for me, though the initial thought of going overseas and leaving the family for six months was daunting!

Can you confirm who was on your state and/or national selection panels?

George Wilson, Ian Ballieu and Sir Ian Southey were on the national selection panel. I was suffering from a cold at the time and was incredibly nervous walking into the Royal Agriculture Society, a venue that was very much old establishment! The panel was very interested in the computing side of our business, and I was able to tell them about the technology. At that stage, I was 39 years old and computers were very much ahead of the curve. I told them about my decision to invest between a Ute or Apple computer – as back in 1981 they were the same price!

Which countries did you travel to as part of your study?

I was elated to receive a Nuffield Scholarship in 1981. Until then, I hadn’t won many things, so to be selected was a great achievement! Back then, the United Kingdom was the key study destination. The Nuffield brand was well known and opened many doors. The farmers I visited ranged from Lords in England to sheep farmers in Wales – I felt like a real local after five months! During that time, I also became involved in what was the start of computers in agriculture. My UK tour gave me access to all the software houses in England, which was a very rewarding experience. Additionally, Di and I spent a month travelling through Germany, France, Switzerland and Denmark. While it was more of a personal experience, it had a big impact. We made incredible friends on the journey that we still keep in touch with today.

What dates did you travel and how long were you overseas?

End of February 1983 and returned from Rome that July.

Any memorable travel experiences?

A couple of moments stand out, these include:

  • We had only 1.5 days of sunshine in the first three months of our UK study program. It was the second wettest year on record!

  • Incredible exposure to the software houses in the UK.

  • On the six-week group tour, we had an orange mini-van to tour France and England. We all became very close friends and gained a great insight into global agriculture. We met with key policy makers and leading farmers. We all had to organise a day’s activity. Our group was so tight knit we elected to stay together for an extra week while we toured the major universities and research stations in southern England.

As a result of your study, what management practices changed in your business?

I studied intensive wheat production at a time when English farmers were increasing their production from eight to 11 tonnes per hectare. The margins were great, and it was an exciting time for the industry.  Before I returned to Australia, I ordered a plane to spread urea on the property and adopted new practices of growing wheat. On the computer side, I came back with an in-depth understanding of the latest technology and introduced ‘FarmPlan’ financial software to Australia.

One of the biggest lessons from my Nuffield tour was the power of groups in farming. After speaking at a local discussion group in Yorkshire, I decided to start one with leading farmers in our district in NSW. Our wives called it “Playgroup” (we took our cut lunches!) but we started benchmarking, specifying and comparing our farm data. The group still meets today and became an essential component in the development of Farm Management 500 – a 400+ farming group focussed on business management.

Who has had a long-term positive impact on you within the Nuffield family and why?

Everyone. Nuffield is an organisation that works together. In particular, I was on the Board when Jim Geltch (1986 Sch) was appointed to CEO, and we have been great friends for many years. It really is a terrific association, based on reciprocity and positive attitudes.

Please outline industry/community leadership roles you have served. 

  • Nuffield Australia, Board Member

  • Australian Wool Research and Production, On-Farm Committee Member

  • Reserve Bank of Australia, Small Business Finance Committee Member

  • CRC Land and Water, Advisory Committee Member

  • Edited more than 90 Nuffield scholar reports

  • Farm Consultant since 1991, working on various projects with NAB, NFF, CSIRO and GRDC. Now associated with Meridian Consulting, based at Yendon in Victoria.

  • PhD on Farm Financial Risk at Charles Sturt University

  • Member of the Graham Centre, which co-ordinates the joint research activities of the Charles Sturt University and the NSW Department of Primary Industry.

What were the three major benefits of completing your Nuffield Farming Scholarship? 

Nuffield gave me the confidence and a desire to make the most of every opportunity that came my way. It provided me with many contacts and friends that I certainly wouldn’t have had otherwise, and it opened up my world beyond the boundary fence. My career started with Nuffield, and every step on the way was due to that original Nuffield experience.

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