Episode 7

What’s at the heart of a community co-operative? Kerry Murphy knows, after 33 years in the job

If there’s something Kerry Murphy, Secretary of TAFCO, doesn’t know about running a community co-operative … it’s not worth knowing.

 

Victoria’s influential, award-winning and profitable rural supplies co-operative TAFCO, managed to reinvent itself to continue to benefit members after the decline of the tobacco industry. Today, they supply retail goods and farming services to a range of retail customers including primary producers, hobby farmers, tradespeople and townsfolk, and have a gross annual revenue of $7 million, providing a dividend to its 620 members who are primarily farmers. Kerry Murphy was fundamental in launching and growing the Myrtleford Farmers Markets and has helped source funds for other local economic development initiatives, such as the free delivery service to farms. Hear about how she makes it all work when she talks to Pete Lewis. How do they work to attract and engage farmers? How do they attract loyal customers and retain community support? How do they work together?

Listen to Episode 7

Episode 7 transcript

Melina Morrison:

Hi, I’m Melina Morrison, CEO of Business Council Co-operatives and Mutuals.  Welcome to our Co-operative Farming podcast series. Cooperative Farming is designed to support farmers, fishers and foresters through the formation of new farming cooperatives, and to foster the resilience and growth of developing farming cooperatives.

Today, Kerry Murphy Secretary of TAFCO Rural Supplies.

If there’s something Kerry doesn’t know about running a community co-operative, it’s not worth knowing. She has been an important part of Victoria’s influential, award-winning and profitable rural supplies co-operative TAFCO,  for over 3 decades. She started at Tafco at the age of 23 and in this episode she talks about how this co-operative originally set up as a merchandising co-operative to service tobacco farmers –  managed to reinvent itself after the demise of tobacco industry.

Today, Tafco turns over 7 million dollars a year,  but an important part of what they do is support the community through education and of course their famous Farmers Markets. We will hear what was behind that growth that not only allowed them to collaborate , but to innovate… and  innovate quickly

Here’s our host, renowned agricultural journalist, Peter Lewis. Enjoy!

Pete Lewis:

Now let’s hear from Kerry Murphy. Kerry has been an influential co-operative leader for many years, more than three decades, in fact. She has a lot of insights, a lot of experience to impart, and this is going to be one of those Co-operative Conversations you really will be worth hanging on and hanging into. She first joined TAFCO, that is the Tobacco & Associated Farmers Co-operative Organisation back in 1988, our bicentennial year, both the co-operative and its founder organisation, the Tobacco Growers of Victoria. She’s seen the end of tobacco farming in her neck of the woods and helped the reinvention of TAFCO.

Pete Lewis:

She’s also spent many years focused on how to make supply co-operative work, and how to engage the local community, particularly, around them. She’s very well versed in capital raising, give seminars and workshops to farmers through partnerships with other organisations, sourced through grant funding. Kerry, it’s a fascinating story. How did you get into all this? What was the spark and the genesis for your involvement in co-operatives?

Kerry Murphy:

Well, hi, Pete. Well, basically, it was fairly simple. There was a job advertised and it really interested me and I was 23 and thought, “Oh, probably won’t get it but it’s worth a shot.” Even found my original job application when we were doing bit of research on this. So I’ve researched the organisation, I applied for the job, I had an interview in a boardroom with seven farmers, I obviously did pretty well, because afterwards, they offered me the job. I think it had something to do with the fact that I take a little less money than somebody with a lot more experience. But I got a car with the job, so it’s pretty awesome.

Pete Lewis:

Now you were a youth worker, that was your background.

Kerry Murphy:

Yeah.

Pete Lewis:

What sort of experience and insights did you bring with you from that line of work into your co-operative work?

Kerry Murphy:

Well, pretty much youth work is about community too, it was just about one section of the community. We did a lot of training, we did a lot of outreach. You we’re working for a board, so sitting around… or you worked for a committee, so sitting around a table, whether it’s committee or board, comfortable environment, and you just need to be pretty organised and follow what your board, the direction that they’re putting you in, yeah.

Pete Lewis:

Now, I imagine you, your community, and indeed the whole country has just changed almost unrecognisably since then. Bob Hawke was Prime Minister, for God’s sake, back in 1988. What were those first few years like, Kerry?

Kerry Murphy:

Well, the first few years were extremely challenging. I didn’t know a lot about co-operatives. Our board was fairly young as well in relation to co-operatives. And we had some major issues early on, we should have a terrific dividend the first year and then I came in, and then we had a massive loss the second year. And that really made everybody sit up and think about what we need to do to make sure that we get this right. And when we were looking at a loss in the second year, my chairman and I jumped in a car… You got to remember, this is a time when there were no computers. I had a typewriter, there was no internet and electronic communications, so to communicate with your members was via a typewriter and a newsletter and putting it in the mail.

Kerry Murphy:

So we were looking at really challenging times, we jumped in the car, went and saw all the members and said, “Hey, guys, this is what’s happened, this is what we’re putting in place, stick by us, and it’ll be worth it in the long run, and every member stuck by us.

Pete Lewis:

And I guess at the time, as you say, technology was really starting to transform, but it wasn’t nearly the greased-lightning speed that it is today. So a lot of face-to-face meetings, I’m imagining a lot of-

Kerry Murphy:

A lot of getting in the car, going around areas, meetings at night with farmers. Yeah, a lot of that.

Pete Lewis:

And obviously, that personal touch, obviously, and ultimately, paid off quite handsomely. And I guess it would for a relatively young co-operative wrangler, as you were back then, that would have all been just invaluable experience in A) dealing with people and really working out through the nuts and bolts of your structure in how it would work, and some cases how it didn’t work.

Kerry Murphy:

Absolutely. Yep. And just understanding your members. I mean, co-ops are all about your members. So yeah, just that insight was terrific.

Pete Lewis:

Now, you talk about members, you started off 32 years ago, at around 175 members. And despite the end of tobacco growing, which we’ll discuss, I guess, in a little bit more detail, it now has 620 members. So what’s the secret to attracting them? And I guess, more importantly, keeping them.

Kerry Murphy:

I think in our case, because we’re a trading co-op and have a store quality, goods and service, that’s just a key component. It has to be fair pricing. It doesn’t have to be bottom of the dollar pricing, but has to be fair pricing, and just good communication with your members, knowing what your members needs are, meeting those needs, and continually changing because nothing stays stagnant, not even farming. So yeah, that would be it.

Pete Lewis:

Well, indeed, you say that nothing stays stagnant. Now, over the course of this series, we’ve met and got an insight into a whole range of different commodity groups and industries. But it’s fair to say that none of them went through the very searing test of character that tobacco growers did, their business, their growing, their farm operation was shut down. And they had to shift on from tobacco to other things. What kind of impact did that have to those businesses, to your co-operative, and I guess to the local community?

Kerry Murphy:

Yeah, look, it was massive, absolutely massive. You can imagine from a grower’s point of view, the industry ended two years before their contracts expired. So there was always the understanding that if the industry did end, that you’d have a bit of time, but at the end of the day that wasn’t the case, there was an offer put to the growers to basically buy their contracts out, that was sweetened by the government with a restructuring package. And so from a grower’s point of view, most of them were close to 60, or in their 60s, close to retirement. Having that that cash up front, not the risk, we were coming into a drought year, it was quite okay for them. There were a few younger growers in the industry, and it was quite devastating for them because they had geared up to be in the industry for a long time, and it ended. So that was the growers.

Kerry Murphy:

From TAFCO’s point of view, it meant we were going from about $4.8 million, so nearly at that $5 million mark. And $2.5 million of that was from tobacco. So it was gone overnight. We had a couple of hundred thousands’ worth of stock that was specific to the tobacco industry. That was one of the reasons TAFCO was formed, was to secure the supply of agricultural goods, particularly those that are imported. So we had all this stock left that we had nothing to do with it. We couldn’t sell it to another industry. It wasn’t registered for another industry. So that was massive to us. And then from a community point of view. All tobacco was grown within 75km in Myrtleford, $25 million farm game value, gone. Overnight. So it was pretty tough.

Pete Lewis:

Now, one of the interesting things that we’ve also learned in the course of this series is how communities and co-operatives in the same game are really close together, they’re really quite thick. Did you have shared experiences with the other growers in other parts of Australia or up in the Atherton Tablelands, and I think the Glass House Mountains, Queensland?

Kerry Murphy:

Yeah.

Pete Lewis:

Did you compare notes and share your journey, your transformation?

Kerry Murphy:

Absolutely. We even took our local councilors, we took our mayor and our CEO at the time of the local shire, up to Mareeba, Far North Queensland and met with the shire up there. This was after tobacco had ended in Far North Queensland, just to learn from their experiences. We had Mick Borzi, the mayor of Mareeba, shipped down to Myrtleford at a conference that we put on. And at the end of the day, we came back with a really strong message, never lose tobacco. But that wasn’t our choice. So definitely always spoke with the other areas of Australia, tobacco growers, when they existed.

Pete Lewis:

So innovation and flexibility, and I guess just taking good ideas from wherever you can get them was obviously the catch cry. What do you think it was about the way you approached things that saw a steady increase in membership?

Kerry Murphy:

Look, a combination of lots of things, I think we’ve got a good business to start with. We have always run workshops, put on farm events, if you like. Looked at ways that farmers can… whether it be valuating, or just improving efficiencies on farm and tapping into resources and putting days on for them. When we’ve run workshops, or events, they’re not limited to members, it’s always been open, anyone can come. And that certainly has helped grow our business. Yeah.

Pete Lewis:

And I guess that community involvement, being part of those relatively small regional communities has been one of the… quite apart from the services you provide. And all that kind of thing. You’ve got a lot of skin in the game in that part of Victoria.

Kerry Murphy:

Yep. Absolutely.

Pete Lewis:

Now, in terms of community engagement, I understand you’re actually talking about bringing in a new type of membership, which might embrace a whole new cohort. Tell us about that.

Kerry Murphy:

So we’ve got a discussion paper before the board at the moment. I’m pretty sure we’re going to take it up, though. So there’s not many farmers that are not members of TAFCO in the area. And we’ve got limited growth. So long-term sustainability, what do we look at? So at the end of the day, we’d like everybody that walks through our door to be a member of TAFCO, even if they only want to buy a bag of cat food. So we’ve looked at a way that we can introduce a new class of membership, one without shares. So people still get to vote through the process, but they don’t have to put in a bunch of money if you like. And so that’s what we’re investigating at the moment. And we actually think it’s about time that we bring on and embrace the whole community and let them join the co-op and see the benefits as well.

Pete Lewis:

And have you borrowed that model from somewhere else? Did you see it working really effectively in some other part of Australia or indeed overseas and think, “That’s our next move?”

Kerry Murphy:

Probably not. Although, since we’ve we’ve joined the Federation of Co-operatives in New South Wales, and met a few other co-operatives from New South Wales, who have similar retail co-ops with members of the community, so I suppose we’re not reinventing anything by any means. It’s not that innovative, it just sort of makes sense with our business model at the moment.

Pete Lewis:

We often hear that there is strength in numbers. How significant for your organisation has been that buying power and has it sometimes surprised you how much clap you can have when you deal with big wholesalers?

Kerry Murphy:

So our manager’s fantastic at that, he’s our key man when it comes to those relationships and got great relationships with all our suppliers. But we initially started as a franchise of Dalgety Farmers, so that’s how we were started and the structure was there, if you like. We then soon learned that we’re going to be much better off being an independent, we became an independent store and purchased through a lot of different suppliers. We then became formation members of a company called AIRR, which is the Australian Independent Rural Retailers group, which has most recently been sold to Elders in the last 12 months, but we were formation members of that buying group, if you like. We weren’t committed to buying everything from the group. But the majority of our stock came from them.

Kerry Murphy:

And that company was really set up on co-operative principles. It wasn’t a co-operative, but it was done close. And it was a great business. And it just got sold and made a lot of money. So we’ll see where the future goes with that one.

Pete Lewis:

Now, you mentioned your crack CEO, tell us a little bit about some of the other people you’ve got in your organisation, do they necessarily have a rural regional background or a co-operative background? Or do they come from a whole variety of careers and skill sets?

Kerry Murphy:

We have a range of people, some of our latest employers have… we’ve had somebody come in new in the admin side, and they’ve actually come up from Melbourne to join the community up here, which has been lovely. We’ve got a former dairy farmer, as a casual that works in the store. We had a truck driver from Shepparton. So bit over an hour away, knew nothing about farming even, and he’s just fantastic and certainly embraced the whole membership. Our point of sale runs accounts, so it sort of sits nicely with your members. It’s not people you don’t know.

Pete Lewis:

And look, one of the great things about successful co-ops that we’ve learned throughout the series, is how they do engage with their communities, particularly on the employment front, and especially giving young people often their first start in work.

Kerry Murphy:

Yeah, look, we always try and have young people working here, it does create its own challenges, as we all know. But look, we’ve had seven or so school-based trainees doing their certificate in agriculture. So rather than doing retail, we’ve actually put them through agriculture and seen it as an investment in young people, hopefully wanting to remain in agriculture, not necessarily making a career at TAFCO. And one example’s just Wade, fantastic, Year 11 student did a Cert III in Agriculture with us, completed it while he was doing Year 11. So that he had the full time in Year 12 to concentrate on his studies. He went on to get a scholarship that we were able to support him in just through referral and what have you, went to Ag college, got a job.

Kerry Murphy:

He traveled the country around Australia buying cattle for export, he has recently come back to Myrtleford and working as a stock agent with Nutrien Ag and just bought a house just on the outskirts of town. And he’s 23. And he’s going to remain Ag for a long time, I think in this area.

Pete Lewis:

23, it seems to be a common number Kerry, people seem-

Kerry Murphy:

Oh, it might be.

Pete Lewis:

People seem to really thrive at 23 in that area, must be something in the water.

Kerry Murphy:

Might be, we’ve got fantastic water here.

Pete Lewis:

Now looking back over this three decade plus journey, I guess, you’re well-placed to be able to give some analysis to why the co-operative structure works so well for TAFCO as opposed to sort of any other company structures, especially in tough times.

Kerry Murphy:

Oh, look, we have been through flood, bushfires, industry deregulation, industry ending. We’ve been through it all with our members and we feel it with them. I think any company can have a corporate social responsibility policy and put it in their charter and so on paper, it looks pretty good. And they do some great things with communities. But I just don’t think you can beat the co-operative model because you are about your members and you understand your members. You’re not just making a statement, “We’re going to be good corporate citizens and put back into community.” It’s part of your core.

Pete Lewis:

And look, people that are very heavily involved in co-operatives understand that and appreciate that. How do you go when you want to approach banks and financial institutions, is there a level of co-operative literacy out there, when it comes to helping you raise the money you need to get through tough times and particularly for growth? Do they get it?

Kerry Murphy:

No, they don’t. It’s quite difficult in a lot of situations when you’re trying to explain your model, and that you don’t have an ACN, and you don’t, in our case, report to ASIC, where…Corporate Affairs Victoria and the registrar of co-ops and what have you. So it is difficult explaining that to people, especially when there are boxes to tick and numbers to be filled in, and you don’t have that number. And you’re usually trying to explain it to somebody that has no idea, unfortunately.

Kerry Murphy:

In relation to capital raising, though, we have been very fortunate, in that there was enough capital raised to get it off the ground. We inherited our first building when the tobacco industry ended for a very meager sum, which was great. We moved to new premises, we own everything, we don’t have debt. And we’ve raised capital through our members through the issuing of bonus shares. So over the 30 – year life of TAFCO, early on, we issued bonus shares, it’s not something that we would probably do now. But it’s certainly early on, that enabled us to keep the cash, grow the business, people were happy with it that we… Anyone that joined the 250 shares back in 1997 would have about 800 shares now. So their $250 investment of $1 each is now $800.

Pete Lewis:

They’re all pretty happy campers. And as we’ve seen, that is the secret to retaining the people that you have got on board, if they see the performance, if they see the goals being kicked, and particularly over a long period, they’re more likely to stay with you, aren’t they?

Kerry Murphy:

They are. I always say, look, our annual general meeting, for example, which is usually a big meeting of the year, we struggled to get a quorum because nobody’s that interested, they quite happy because the figures are really good, and the returns have always been really healthy. They come to all the workshops that we put on and events and what have you, we never struggle with numbers, but probably our AGM is the one that we struggle with.

Pete Lewis:

So there is a high level of trust and clearly transparency in the way you’re going about things, on a far more regular basis than those good old face-to-face meetings and curly questions for directors.

Kerry Murphy:

Yeah, nobody comes to the AGM with any of those. But we certainly stay in contact with the members now. And we’ve moved with the times, and we didn’t have a website obviously, when we started, we’re on our third version now and looking at the next one and how we do a bit more with members that way.

Pete Lewis:

No how important was that capital raising finesse and prowess in the Myrtleford Markets project? Tell us about that.

Kerry Murphy:

Oh, okay. So with the Myrtleford Farmers Market, the way we raise capital for that was very different. We applied for a grant. So Regional Development Victoria actually had a program looking at farmers’ markets, we applied for some money, and we got $10,000 to do a feasibility study. So we did our feasibility study that sort of said that a little farmers’ market wouldn’t be viable in the long-term, unless it was an event. So then we went about, “Well, how do we make it an event?” So we engaged somebody to help us with that. We had a really good business plan worked out. We had support from the community to do it.

Kerry Murphy:

There was always a stage two funding process that you could apply for to start up your market. We’d written our feasibility study, the state government withdrew that program, so there was no money available. We had this wonderful report that said we needed $40,000 to start the market, if we’re going to do it properly. And there was no money there. And TAFCO wasn’t prepared to put in $40,000 of ours. So we shelved it for a little while, and then the funding program became available again. And we put a submission in and managed to get $30,000 to start it off.

Kerry Murphy:

So got some really good infrastructure. So got some really good outdoor speakers. We were able to engage local entertainers. And we got a really good website. We’ve had some really good communications early on with potential stall-holders, who were nearly all members of TAFCO. And now we’ve just celebrated our fourth year. The market doesn’t make any money, it runs at revenue neutral, but it hasn’t costed and it’s been a great community project.

Pete Lewis:

And I guess, as you say, just a perfect vehicle for you to promote all the good things A) that your members produce and B) what your co-op does. It’s a kind of a constant reminder to people, that… Who thought up the good idea?

Kerry Murphy:

It was one of our board members, one of our board members said, “I think we should be doing this and giving an outlet to our producers and what have you.” My initial reaction is, “Ah, that’s a lot of work.” They’re a lot of work, they’re a lot of rewards with it, but they’re a lot of work. And yeah, it’s been really good to be part of, and we are still going through the process, I think, of getting the community actually understanding that it’s TAFCO that own the market. I believe we’re the only accredited farmers market in Victoria that’s actually owned and run by farmers. So yeah

Pete Lewis:

So it’s a fair dinkum farmers’ market.

Kerry Murphy:

It’s a real farmers’ market, it has the stamp of approval that when you go and buy from the person, they actually grow the stuff. Or if they make it and they value add, its local produce, there’s a whole criteria to get through. And we’ve been really, really strict on that. Yeah.

Pete Lewis:

Now, look, the whole issue of government grants opens up an interesting conversation, I think, because as we’ve seen so often, there can be more twists and turns in a Russian novel, getting to the bottom of the grants process, you really need a grant whisperer to walk you through the complexity of it. And really get the language right, and the applications right, and all that sort of thing. How important is that to TAFCO and what would you tell other co-operatives who are sort of wrestling with the whole issue of, “What do we do about grants? How do we apply for it? Should we bother? Is it worth it?”

Kerry Murphy:

Yeah. They’re not easy to start with. First, you need to make sure that you’re on the mail, there’s something you subscribe to. Whether it be your industry association, like one of our most recent grants, we got through BCCM and the Australian Mutuals Foundation. Now had we have not been on the mailing list, we wouldn’t have known about it, most likely. So get on those mailing list, join your industry associations so that you’re talking with people. You need to be talking with your local government, and if they’ve got economic development officers, speaking with the economic development officers. And just keeping your fingers in the pulse. We’ve been pretty successful when it comes to running projects. We’ve had over a million dollars worth of projects from via TAFCO. They’re all community-based projects, and around our members. So that’s pretty awesome.

Kerry Murphy:

It’s really important that you communicate with whoever the funding body is first about your idea. Throw the idea out there and see whether it’s got any legs to start with, or you’re going to be wasting your time. Because TAFCO has 600 members, we’re across three local government areas. We’re across all commodities of farming, we’re not specific to just the nut industry, or just the hops industry or just tobacco industry. We cover all bases, we’ve got a really strong base to apply for funds, because of the existence in who we are. So that really, really helps us. And then it also really helps that you’ve got to be really good with your reporting and acquittals and do what you say you’re going to do, and spend the money on time and acquit on time. And that all comes at a price. Yeah, so that’s it.

Pete Lewis:

Yeah, and it’s all terrific advice, I think, on the strength of this co-operative conversation. You’ll probably be fielding a lot of inquiries from around Australia for people who will want to pick your brains. You talk about having your ear pretty close to the ground and having, well, in fact, 620 ears pretty close to the ground. I guess 2020 could not have been a sterner test for the strength and resilience of your co-op and your members and your community.

Kerry Murphy:

Well and truly, but 2020, we actually feel like we’re coals. The last two years we’ve had significant growth in TAFCO. The COVID environment has not had too many negative impacts on the farming community in relation to product. It’s certainly taking its toll on mental health and a few other things, but overall, the farming industry is probably one of the better industries to be in during these really challenging times with everybody, yeah.

Pete Lewis:

And I guess, as people would understand, Myrtleford is not a suburb of Melbourne. You’re a fairway distance, and probably in this case, the further, the better. The state could be five times bigger at times like this, I guess, for you, and there’s no doubt the effects of the pandemic are disproportionately building the capital city and the near areas more than they are up where you are. But nonetheless, I guess there are still lots of logistical and practical hurdles to be overcome.

Kerry Murphy:

Absolutely, like our farmers market went in recess for six months over COVID. We just weren’t prepared to… We could run the market, because it’s food-based and it was within the rules, but it would change the whole feel of the market. So we spoke with our growers and our stallholders and decided to put it in recess and started up again in September, so we’ve only had one market. Had a full COVID-safe plan in place for that and everybody signed in and sterilised and gave them all a TAFCO pin on the way in, if they didn’t want to do the QR code on their phone. And yeah, we had over 700 people at the first market, all spaced out. And we have a very small market, we’re talking 20 stores, so yeah.

Pete Lewis:

That’s good. Now look, I guess one of the important things that this sort of pause button gives communities, is a little bit of thinking time and in terms of your co-op, you’ve been thinking of some creative ways to boost the product profitability for your members. Tell us a little about what you’ve been doing or what you’ve got in mind.

Kerry Murphy:

So really, now we’re talking about getting everybody that walks through that door as a member of TAFCO, and increasing our membership, and increasing our sales in that space, which I mentioned earlier. So that’s the main thing that we’ve been thinking about. We’ve also been reviewing how we sit in the digital space and what that should look and feel like moving forward. It’s not something that’s in our comfort zone. It’s not something that… Yeah, we’re just learning and moving forward and looking at how we can do things better in the challenges of the future, whatever they may be.

Pete Lewis:

Now in terms of marketing, in terms of getting the TAFCO brand out and about, you’ve trademarked the Primary Producer Proud.

Kerry Murphy:

Yeah, love it.

Pete Lewis:

Which can-

Kerry Murphy:

Doesn’t that sound good?

Pete Lewis:

It does. It’s a bit of a throwback, but it’s absolutely what it says. Did that take long for you to kind of work on those three simple words?

Kerry Murphy:

No, so we inherited them from the tobacco days. So every tobacco farm used to have a sign out the front that said, Primary Producer Proud, and it had some tobacco leaves on it. And they were really hard to come by at the end of the day and quite well sought after. And that’s probably when we grabbed the tagline, and then we said, “Hey, we need to trademark this or somebody else will grab it.” And then it was the perfect tagline when we started the farmers market. It just all fitted together and the essence of who we are, and the history too. So yeah, we love that Primary Producer Proud.

Pete Lewis:

And what does it appear on? Do you find people are using it as a sort of auxiliary boost to their own products and brands and things?

Kerry Murphy:

Not really, to be honest. We use it for everything.

Pete Lewis:

Are they allowed to? Are they allowed to do that?

Kerry Murphy:

We’re trying to think if anyone has, they’d probably ask. I’ve seen others try to use it that aren’t, but no. No, but it’s something worth exploring, Pete. You’ve given us another idea there.

Pete Lewis:

And look, happy to provide it for you free of charge, Kerry. Now in terms of the rest of the supply chain, you’ve obviously got the 620 members in the community of Myrtleford bottled up, what steps do you take to really keep yourself connected with every step of the chain?

Kerry Murphy:

Are you talking from product to the store, and then from the store to-

Pete Lewis:

Yeah.

Kerry Murphy:

So the fertilizer and the-

Pete Lewis:

Yeah, everything.

Kerry Murphy:

… chemical, everything? Oh, I leave that up to our manager. He’s wonderful at it and really good, and we’ve got a really good buying group. We’ve got systems in place, we’ve got a great point of sale system that works for us. And certainly, communication with those suppliers is pretty key in making sure that when there is an issue, because there’s going to be issues when you’re talking supply chains, that they can be dealt with, and that we can then communicate to our members, if they’ve been waiting on something and we haven’t got it, that we can explain why. Whether that be COVID and glyphosate from China or whether it be trying to get a cattle crush out of Tamworth at the moment. It’s six months late, not enough welders, not enough people to make what we need, yeah.

Pete Lewis:

Look, speaking of which, have you answered our poll? Tonight’s poll question is, why are co-operatives so important to agriculture? Have a go, click on the poll in the live chat to the right of this stream to select your answer. We’re swinging into the homestretch now, Kerry, but what do you see in the crystal ball? What’s in the medium to long term for TAFCO?

Kerry Murphy:

It will be interesting, because times always change. We have a vision, so we’ve had a vision that our board have put together and our staff are aware of and our members are aware of, and that is to be a uni…I can’t even say it… A uniquely positioned and profitable agribusiness co-operative, servicing regional communities. And we will work towards that and try to be the best that we can be, and just never forget your members. Remember your core, why you exist. It’s just critical.

Pete Lewis:

What does success look and feel like, Kerry?

Kerry Murphy:

Being profitable is pretty important. No point in being in business if you can’t be profitable, but it’s definitely not about maximising those profits. It’s about, in our case, getting back to those quality goods, goods and services to your members, supplying what they need at fair pricing, and good communication with your members right through. Pretty simple for me.

Pete Lewis:

You personally have put in a bit of mileage on this campaign, and I guess not all of it on bitumen. What drives you? What keeps you as passionate about it as you were way back as a 23 year old?

Kerry Murphy:

I know, and I’m 56 now. That’s a bit scary, isn’t it? I think partially it’s my nature, it’s just it is my nature, but I love this business, I feel like it’s my own. Love the members, and I’m not doing the same thing, I am constantly being challenged. Constantly, I think, throwing out ideas with our board, with our staff, with our members. What do you think of this? And then one of those ideas over one of those local glasses of red wine from our members will spark something, and then you make it happen. Yeah. So I keep doing things differently, yeah.

Pete Lewis:

And at the foundation, as we have seen each and every week that we’ve done this, the most important principles for very successful co-operatives, they all seem to be the same. They’re universal.

Kerry Murphy:

Yeah.

Pete Lewis:

Thanks so much for the conversation, Kerry.

Kerry Murphy:

Enjoyed it.

Melina Morrison:

Thank you for joining us on this podcast and I hope you enjoyed it.  The Tafco model is really built around members coming together, creating scale to benefit its membership base. Particularly in regions where supply costs are expensive because of location.  In the partnering round table video connected to this episode, we explore where that concept has worked in different ways.

You can watch this insightful round table on demand by going to conversations.co-opfarming.coop.

Don’t forget to subscribe now to the Co-operative Farming podcast series and rate us.

I hope you’re inspired to find out more about the fantastic benefits of cooperative farming, and how to realise the incredible potential for your business, as we future proof Aussie farmers.

Join us at coopfarming.coop, and thanks for following this series.

In our next episode we speak to Larry McHugh CEO of the Marquis Macadamia Co-Op

Remember, in a challenging world, we are all “better together”.

I’m Melina Morrison, thanks for listening.

Key links

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