TOOWOOMBA-based traders Steve Adams and Ian Hanley each sign off today on their respective half centuries in the grain trade.
Between them, they have done millions of dollars’ worth of business, something neither of them could have envisaged when they started out.
Ian will retire as manager of Norco’s commodity-trading division, which is now handling around 250,000t per annum, including up to 12,000t of canola meal, a feed input that was unheard of when Ian started out in the 1970s.
Steve signs off as Cargill regional manager northern zone, coordinating supply of ingredients to consumers from Central Queensland to the Central West of New South Wales.
Steve’s arrival in the grain industry started with him wandering into the Narrabri Commonwealth Employment Service office in Narrabri in February 1974 and becoming a casual at Cargill’s North West Vegetable Oils.
“They put me in a room with about 5000 books and got me to calculate grower payments,” Steve said.
“I got the hang of it, and after three months…I became a Cargill permanent.”
“Cargill put me through a Hemingway & Robinson bookkeeping course, and I got up to assistant accountant with that.”
It led to a transfer to Cargill Seeds and Cargill Grain, and commencement of an accountancy degree he is yet to finish.
Ian’s start came as a trainee flour miller at Defiance in downtown Toowoomba, a path that ended when he realised he had an allergy to wheat.
“I liked the job, but I couldn’t keep working there,” Ian said.
“I started to sneeze and sneeze, and I went to the doctor and had one of those skin-scratch allergy tests…and that was the result.”
It prompted a move to Riverina Stockfeeds at Oakey, where he did not have to be in physical contact with grain.
“I went from being a storeman to logistics to buying and then trading; they wanted us to buy from farmers on the Downs, and away we went.”
Changes with deregulation
Ian’s Riverina years coincided with the deregulation of the domestic market, when a number of privately owned businesses sprang into existence to service domestic and export demand.
After 21 years with Riverina, Ian moved to one of those, Creasy’s Grain Enterprises, and then to Robinson Grain before joining the newly formed Norco Rural Agribusiness division in 2010 as a grain trader.
Behind Western Australia’s CBH Group, Norco is Australia’s second-biggest co-operative, and Mr Hanley has been instrumental in building its footprint in the grain space in northern NSW and southern Queensland.
The co-operative includes 190 dairy farmer members, and Ian and the Norco grain team buy for them, and for Norco’s feedmills at Lismore in northern NSW, and at Windera in Qld’s South Burnett.
“We buy commodities for the mills to use, and for the dairy farmers that home mix, and we trade.”
“Norco has dairies on the Downs and in the Burnett now as well as in northern NSW, and it has 30 retail stores spread from Taree to Bundaberg.”
Ian is grateful for the path of his own on-the-job training, and his advice to those starting out is to spend some time in logistics.
“It’s the best training you can have.”
For Steve, a consolidation of Cargill’s trading division to Melbourne in 1990 saw him take a redundancy rather than make the move south, and he joined the Australian Wheat Board’s Queensland office.
The demise of the organisation’s state offices prompted Steve’s move to Riverina Stockfeeds in Brisbane, and he commuted rather than moving the family out of Toowoomba.
Through Riverina’s connection with Mitsubishi, it saw Steve work on sorghum export business to Japan, with up to 120,000t shipped per year, before he transferred to Riverina’s Oakey office.
In October 2000, Steve switched into the AWB role of northern grains manager based in Toowoomba.
“That was concentrated on marketing grain to domestic consumers.”
In 2010, Cargill bought AWB and Steve ended up back at the company that gave him his start, this time concentrating on selling meals from Cargill’s crushing plants in Newcastle and Footscray in the domestic market, with feedlots the volume customer.
As someone who has relationships with growers, consumers and traders that cover decades, Ian said the biggest change in the market has come from the rise of the grower-broker.
“They’re looking after a number of big growers, and they do a good job of it.
“Some growers like selling their own grain, and others are happy to pay that $2/t and not have to think about it.
“That’s good for them, but I think it’s making it hard for that mid-tier trader who can struggle to get volume if the grower isn’t selling.”
Steve said technology that allows traders to work remotely has been the biggest game-changer in his 50 years, with benefits for the individual, the business, and the family.
“We can all keep doing what we need to do from just about anywhere in the grain trade, and it makes life so much better for the people that want to do it that way.”
While the grain trade is undeniably about numbers, Steve said relationships have been the most important factor into his 50th year in the business.
“All of my job moves came about because of relationships; that’s what doing business is about.”
Recognition from the top
Cargill spokesperson Peter McBride said Steve is well known by all in the industry and highly respected by his customers and peers.
“His experience and relationships with consumers will be sorely missed by the Cargill team, and we wish him all the best in his well-deserved retirement.”
For Steve, that means “The Three Gs”: gardening, golf and grandkids.
For Ian it means something similar, minus the golf, and with bass fishing in its place.
“I’m a mad keen fisherman, and I’ve already upgraded the boat.”
Norco general manager agrisolutions Adrian Reck said Ian has built Norco’s grain business from the ground up.
“With year on year growth, he’s taken it to an exceptional level through his leadership and his integrity,” Mr Reck said.
“He’s expanded it from beyond our internal customer base to grow the business by cultivating opportunities.”
The division’s success was recognised in Norco’s most recent internal Business of the Year Award, which was won jointly by Norco’s Casino store, and by the division Ian heads.
“He’s a true leader, and a very authentic person who can be agile in business when he needs to be.
“He has built a strong team around him which will continue under Jaco.”
Stepping into Ian’s role is Jaco van der Merwe, who joined Norco in October last year, while Cargill territory manager Tyson Hosie is replacing Steve.
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