Terry McCosker co-founded Resources Consulting Services (RCS) in 1985, moving it from Darwin to its current location in Queensland during 1990. The business began to grow quite rapidly after 1992-93, once a clear vision had been established. This expansion continued until 2004 when RCS employed 40 staff members across each state of Australia. At this point, government subsidies supporting rural training had been removed, forcing RCS to cut costs and reduce staff. RCS currently employs around 15-20 staff members.
RCS staff are highly regarded trainers in agriculture, all with hands on management experience. They offer three primary streams of work. The first is training; this provides the necessary knowledge based information, but Managing Director Terry McCosker believes this is simply not enough to improve a business. The second is support programs; where RCS “turns knowledge into skills.” For the knowledge based information to become applicable it must be turned into skills, which often takes years of support to accomplish. The final stream offered by RCS is consulting: “we’re basically one third training, one third support and one third consulting” Terry says.
Over their long history, RCS has created Australia’s most in depth series of training and professional development programs available to the agriculture sector. These programs have been combined to establish the Rural Profit System. RCS’s Rural Profit System uses science based concepts and pairs these ideas with an applied environment that focuses on both increased profits and renewed ecosystems. The first stage of the system is a marketing exercise that informs people of potentially useful knowledge, of which they were unaware. The second stage involves very comprehensive educational programs, along with intensive training sessions designed to shift paradigms. Furthermore, the third stage is where RCS follows up with support programs such as GraduateLink and ExecutiveLink. The fourth and final stage is consulting. Terry states that the aim of the Rural Profit System is “to help individuals and businesses, develop and grow over time as they implement these skills. Many of these new skills will actually become unconscious competencies that occur unknowingly, as a reflex. Our philosophy is to teach people how to fish, rather than giving them a fish”.
Terry highlights the importance of “treating our clients as intelligent human beings”, RCS assumes its clients have the ability to take on board high level knowledge, and thus the focus is not solely on knowledge based information. RCS provides knowledge in a holistic way, integrating every aspect required to run and improve a business. RCS works on the individuals, the business, and the underlying ecology of the business, including production systems. Terry states “we do not provide recipes”, instead RCS teaches fundamental principles which cover a broad range of subjects. This allows RCS to empower their clients with the knowledge they attain, coupled with the bright future envisioned ahead.
RCS has been recognized by the rural industry in numerous academic studies and more recently both a Federal Government and a separate Queensland government survey, as the most trusted source of information in rural Australia. The academic studies have demonstrated that the approach RCS takes to the development of people, land, production, business and communities is at the leading edge of change in agriculture. The surveys confirm that is the industry perception as well.
“Our primary marketing tool is actually word of mouth”, 90% of RCS’s new clients are credited to word of mouth. This involves conducting countless speaking engagements and field days, in addition to constant communication via phone, email and social media. RCS employs a great range of marketing tools that are all aimed at level one of the Rural Profit System; making people aware of knowledge that has not been grasped, which they can use to improve their business.
Education without converting the knowledge into skills or new habits is of little benefit and does not lead to improvement in a business, “education and support must go together” Terry emphasises. Training is a critical starting point, which is why RCS focuses heavily on this aspect. Recent benchmarking has shown that over a 5-6 year period, RCS is accountable for an average increase of 3.5% pa on capital returns for its clients. With a client base totalling $1.5 Billion in assets, this results is a $50 Million increase in net profits. This is a considerable increase on profitable improvement in the industry to which Terry believes is due to following fundamental principles.
In terms of climate change; “our philosophy is that we need to maintain or improve the underlying environment. We focus on the water cycle, biodiversity and soil health, including carbon and ecosystem services. We teach farmers about these fundamental ecological principles and how they can work with them rather than against them. As we begin working with Mother Nature rather than against her she responds very well and improves productivity, allowing us to lower inputs and make more profitable businesses.” Improving soil health and carbon allows the ecosystem to become more resilient to such things as rainfall variability and droughts. RCS works with people within the industry to develop drought policies to better manage droughts since “they are a normal part of the business in agriculture.”
In any industry, strong relationships are a critical component of doing business for the long term. It is vital to create relationships on an industry level; such as with suppliers and industry representatives, but also on a more personal level to “better understand the people you are working with.” RCS is constantly trying to support local businesses by running their courses regionally to support the local economy. “We always plan to exceed the expectations every time we deliver a product”. This approach, not only feeds word of mouth but it improves on industry relationships as well.
Presently, the major issue consuming the agricultural industry is debt and a lack of profit. Terry comments “debt and a lack of profit cannot coexist.” Rising debt, caused by a lack of profit, is due to the 50% increase in overheads, over the last 10 years. Terry observes that productivity in the agricultural industry has remained constant during the last 20 years, despite the increasing cost structure. The end result is a cost price squeeze and once debt is accounted for, it creates a very difficult situation for industry members to cope with. During the last 6 years, the average return on capital for beef producers in Queensland was approximately 1.5%. However, for the last 9 out of 10 years the average beef producer has actually spent more than they have earned.
Terry has been involved in the agricultural industry for over 45 years and notes that “everything I’ve accomplished up until now is training me for what I do today.” He started as a cadet in the Queensland Department of Primary Industries where he worked for 11 years, and gained valuable industry experience. Terry then transitioned to the cattle industry in the Northern Territory for 7 years; “I jumped the fence and became a user of knowledge instead of a scientist or provider of knowledge.” This allowed him to realize how relevant the work he had completed with the government was to the agricultural industry.
Terry’s goal for the upcoming year is to have a soil carbon methodology, currently under review, approved by the Department of Climate Change in Canberra. Once it has been accepted, it will allow farmers to officially begin sequestering carbon in soils, “soils are the greatest storage of carbon in the world over which man has control” advised Terry. “In fact, there is more carbon in the first meter of soil than there is in all terrestrial life and in the atmosphere combined”. Once the soil carbon methodology is approved, the process of removing CO2 from the atmosphere and rewarding farmers, the real heroes of the future, can begin.
Terry advises his clients that “it is imperative to never stop learning. You must continue to learn and develop yourself. Developing yourself is a much undervalued exercise. The most successful people I know spend countless hours on education; taking new courses, reading often, and communicating with many people. Whenever we’re learning, we’re moving forward.”