A rewarding career serving farming communities
A commitment to serving farmer clients and harnessing opportunities in good times and bad are the hallmarks of Karel Walker’s 16-year career with Elders.
From her first job in merchandise sales at Lake Grace to managing Elders branches at Albany and Mount Barker in southern Western Australia today, Karel has always been impressed by Elders’ commitment to servicing farmers and graziers and the rural communities where they operate.
“Through the ups and downs, Elders has always recognised that we provide a vital supply chain link to farmers who rely on us to get the job done,” she said.
“The people we service are our highest priority.”
Karel has never forgotten how tough it was when she took on her first merchandise sales job at Elders in Lake Grace back in 2005.
“Back then, local farmers grew cereals and ran sheep, but seasonal conditions were tough, grain and wool prices were low, and livestock weren’t bringing in the prices they are today,” she said.
“However, I was a young mother from a farming background with experience in banking, so I saw Elders as a good career opportunity and quickly learned how important the company was to the local community.
“Eighteen months later, I took on the very challenging role of branch manager, adding the livestock agency, insurance, real estate, banking in those days to the merchandise functions and a much bigger area to look after.
“I was also responsible for eight staff at Lake Grace and two more employees at a satellite branch at Newdegate.
“And despite all the change at Elders in those days, the training was excellent and I had a lot of opportunities to develop my career.”
In 2012, Karel took up a new challenge as merchandise manager at Mount Barker, at the request of Matt Ericsson, Elders area manager for WA’s south-west.
The business there is a joint venture between Elders and the Mount Barker Cooperative, one of Australia’s oldest cooperatives at more than a century old.
It is a dedicated merchandise operation supplying agricultural chemicals, animal health products, cropping and pasture seeds, fertilisers, as well as shearing gear and plants, field bins and silos.
“Mount Barker is a diverse region supporting cattle, sheep and cropping; and as farmers have expanded their operations, so too has our team and our services,” Karel said.
The Elders team there now includes an agronomist and a salesperson on the road, to provide advice and arrange supplies for farmer clients.
Once again, Karel’s role grew in June 2020 to take on the management of both the Mount Barker and Albany branches, including 12 staff.
It’s meant spending time in both locations and looking at ways to do things better for farmers.
“A lot of our growth comes from employing people who are very good at what they do and are willing to go the extra mile to assist our clients,” Karel said.
“The COVID-19 era has seen our people go above and beyond to ensure our farmers have the merchandise needed to keep their operations running, anywhere from Cranbrook to the north to Albany, 100 kilometres south.
“We are also servicing farmers in more remote areas like Bremer Bay, 180 kilometres north-east of Albany, through an agency at Boxwood Hill.
“By stocking this depot and offering on-farm deliveries, farmers are saving valuable time because they don’t need to drive 140 kilometres coming into town when they are busy seeding or spraying.”
Beyond its service to farmer clients, Elders is continuing to support local communities.
It is a major sponsor of the Boxwood Hill Football Club and Elders people regularly take part in information days for students at the WA College of Agriculture, Denmark.
The company is also a major sponsor of Stirlings to Coast Farmers, a farmer-led research and extension group helping South Coast farmers to adapt research findings to local conditions and run more productive and more profitable farm businesses.
“Whether it’s helping out with trials and agronomy support or guiding the career choices of the next generation, we are actively involved in our community,” Karel said.
Karel has no doubt that Elders has been the right choice for her career.
“No matter how tough it is, our clients are always our first priority,” she said.
“People like me who are the face of Elders in the country are highly valued by our leadership team and there are plenty of opportunities for training and development and meeting new people.
“Elders is an innovative company that is growing and there’s no better company to work for in agriculture.”
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Header image: Serving farmer clients is Elders’ highest priority, says Karel Walker, pictured here with Rob Quenby, Quenby Viticultural Services, at the West Cape Howe Vineyard at Mt Barker.