Labour shortage case study - Nathalia Fertiliser and Grain

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					Tough times in rural areas calls for creative thinking
                                                      The Nathalia Fertilizer and Grain company is affected
                                                      by the drought almost as much as any Australian
                                                      farmer. As a major supplier of grain and fertilizer to
                                                      farmers around Nathalia in northern Victoria, owner
                                                      David Vaughan relies on the rain so farmers will want
                                                      his grain to plant and his fertilizer to make sure they

                                                      Back in September 2007 David had a plan if it rained.
                                                      Unfortunately for David it didn’t rain in September
                                                      2007. In fact, it didn’t rain in October or November

David’s Plan B was to seek outside help. He found out about a program the Victorian Government was
running called My Business, My People, which offers businesses with 5–100 staff with free workforce
planning. He signed up online ( and a business consultant
came and visited him at his business in Nathalia.

Facing the uncertainty created by prolonged periods without rain, David’s business, 50% of which relied on
trading fertilizer, needed some fresh ideas. He didn’t know exactly what he needed to do but he was aware of
the stark reality: when there is no rain, and therefore no work, how does he keep his staff occupied?

“I knew that if I didn’t think of another way to provide work for my employees, I wouldn’t have the people to
run the business when the rain did come,” said David.

“The business was still operating profitably when we got involved in the program but I could see that the
situation was worsening and now was a crucial time to make sure the business survived the drought.’’

The situation wasn’t hopeless for David, who bought the 40-year-old business in 1998. He had assets that he
could use to diversify his business and make sure he had enough work to sustain his 12 employees. Because
many of David’s employees are truck drivers, it made sense to utilise the trucks and drivers to transport
alternative commodities.

“We looked at other areas we could get into to keep the business going,” said David. “We bought a trailer to
transport hay to farmers and used our existing fleet of trucks to transport canola meal from Nathalia to
Numurkah and surrounding farming districts.”

While the business was going through changes it was more important than ever to communicate with staff
and make sure everybody knew where the business was headed. The business consultant, from the Group
Training Association of Victoria (GTA), suggested that David involve his employees to help brainstorm ways
the business could diversify.

“We had a whole-of-staff meeting to come up with ideas on how else we could diversify,” David said. “A lot of
our ideas came from our staff but it was good to have the GTA business consultant here to start the process
and get the ideas flowing. We value our staff and this was one way to show them that.”

After alternative revenue streams for the business were identified, the consultant helped David develop a
business plan, which was the first business plan Nathalia Fertilizer and Grain had ever produced.
“I was floundering around a bit and needed direction,” David said. “Our employees helped us develop our
business plan and everyone contributed with ideas. We now have five clear objectives and know where we’re

Some other ideas that came out of the action plan included:

       Documenting position descriptions
       Documenting work procedures manuals
       Developing a HR manual
       Conducting a risk assessment of the business
       Maintaining fortnightly internal meetings to keep communication channels open

“I would recommend any small business to go for this opportunity,” David said. “You can never have too
much outside help. If you think you know it all, you don’t.”

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Description: Labour shortage case study - Nathalia Fertiliser and Grain