In it for the long haul - The rise of NORTH WEST AG SERVICES
For more than three decades, North West Ag Services has been immersed in the communities in the Wimmera-Mallee region of Victoria, and last year the business integrated into the Delta Ag network. Lucy Ziesemer chats to Steve Cameron about the enterprise grew from the family home at Quambatook, to now servicing a broad regional footprint across 14 outlets.
With the emergence and growth of large international corporate investment companies on Australian soil, Aussie farmers and consumers alike are becoming increasingly supportive of grassroots operations.
Community involvement is also high on the wish list for our rural townships, and there could surely be no better candidate to tick both boxes than North West Ag Services with their support of various local organisations and projects.
Born out of a need for a rural supplies store in the region, the business was originally established in 1987 and operated from the rear of its founders’ Wayne and Judy Cameron’s home in Quambatook, Victoria.
The then Mallee Rural Supplies (IAMA) in Swan Hill approached Wayne and Judy Cameron to set up a depot and as the saying goes, the business never looked back. Quambatook locals all their lives, the Cameron family had a wonderful relationship with agronomist Michael Hind, so after a number of successful years as a depot the group decided to set up the business independently as Quambatook Rural Supplies, an affiliate of IAMA.
Wayne sadly passed away in 2007, and in 2008 Wayne and Judy’s son Steve Cameron took over as Managing Director alongside his mum after purchasing a share in the business from Michael.
Steve describes himself as a poor quality student who scraped through secondary school, cancelling a plan to become an electrician in favour of enrolling at Longerenong Ag College to study Ag Science. “I aimed to become a livestock agent and auctioneer until a wise old livestock agent with bad knees and hips and overall health suggested I find another profession unless I wanted to look like him,” Steve quips.
He says it was unplanned and purely through chance he ended up back at the family business, but in hindsight the move was a good one. Steve says his father and Michael had earned the business a lot of momentum in their time.
“It became the responsibility of the whole team to maintain that momentum and keep achieving what we set out to for our clients,” he says.
“In retrospect, that period reminds me of when I was a little kid on a bike and Mum and Dad would give the bike an almighty super boost shove from the back seat, and you would free wheel for a moment for balance before you started peddling again.
“You could barely keep up and almost lost control - it was risky but great fun!”
In the early years, Wayne continued working as a fencing contractor and manager of the grain elevators board site at Quambatook, but with no other entity servicing the local rural supplies market, it wasn’t long before Quambatook Rural Supplies demanded a lot of attention.
Steve says expansion was not a focus of the business and instead, the goal was to improve the business model.
“It worked on providing excellent service and high quality agronomy,” he says.
“The culture and mentality we’ve always had is ‘focus on getting better and bigger will just happen’.”
North West Ag Services now boasts 14 outlets across the Wimmera Mallee region of Victoria. Aside from spreading across the state, Steve says a number of key developments had occurred within the business itself.
“First and foremost, the founders embedded a great culture and attracted the best people who wanted to be part of that feeling, and that continues today,” he says. “The acquisition of Tasco Rural Supplies in 1998 grew the business significantly and the launch of AGRIvision Consultants as a dedicated agronomic consultancy provider in 2007 serviced the growing requirement for an independent full-farm system of service.
“In 2016 we officially established our purpose of helping growers make the right decisions and our values of integrity, respect, commitment and ’getting better’- aspects we are proud to maintain.”
The decision to establish the agronomy side of the business separately was based off a survey of more than 40 clients, questioning what they were looking for from NWA (North West Ag) now and into the future.
Steve explains that it became clear over a 12 month consultation period there was a need to adapt to remain as relevant to clients as they had previously.
“This was an evolutionary step and at the time we had an exceptionally strong agronomy team led by AGRIvision General Manager Kent Wooding,” he says.
“Agronomic service requirements from growers began changing in the late 1990s where the importance of getting good agronomic advice was integrated into their whole farm system.
“Traditionally the agronomic service component was supported by the sale of products such as crop protection and fertilizer products, but the industry progressed and independent holistic consultancy advice was a much better model to deliver what growers needed in their increasingly integrated and complex systems.”
NWA and AVC operate separately providing different products and services to the same farming clients.
Steve says this way of working clearly defined (for the client) the relationship they had with the individuals from each business while also providing the NWA and AVC teams a clear understanding of the framework of responsibility they had to clients.
At present there are 38 team members within NWA and 17 within AVC. Steve says NWA and AVC operate in the best cropping region in Victoria and many in the agricultural industry who visited were impressed with the rugged beauty and productivity of the region.
“Wheat, barley, oats, canola, lentils, lupins and vetch are all grown very successfully in the area,” Steve explains.
“Broadacre cropping is the cornerstone of agronomic production in the Wimmera Mallee while the ever-growing integration of pasture continues to emerge within farm plans for livestock production.
“The irrigated areas of our footprint are excellent for production of corn, rice and tomatoes through summer, demonstrating the productive capacity and diversity of our region.”
Last year, NWA integrated with Delta Agribusiness and Steve believes it has introduced some interesting opportunities.
“The COVID-19 restrictions have curtailed our ability to effectively share and execute opportunities, particularly ones requiring us to get close to what is happening,” he says.
“Once we are able to reunite across the border I can see so many opportunities for both the NWA and AVC teams immersing themselves in the Delta Ag footprint in search of the next evolutionary adaptation for us to take to our clients, and vice versa.”
As it was in the beginning, North West Ag remains 100 per cent committed to playing its role in the community.
Steve says this is an imperative aspect of the business as integrating in local communities was part of everyday life for the team.
“We know that we are a very relevant part of the community fabric in all towns we operate in and we have a responsibility to ensure we support local community groups that work tirelessly to provide so much for their towns.
“I am extremely proud of what we have achieved – the contributions of so many over the 33 years is evident in what the business is today.
“The resilience of our clients over the same period is extraordinary and I see so many examples of farming families we’ve been working with for three generations who are outright successes in this industry.
“To know we have been an enduring part of those success stories makes us all proud and gives us great purpose about why we exist.”