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Farming matters: Phil Christopher - ‘Ask yourself why you are a farmer and what you enjoy about it’

A useful discipline to maximise the probability of your farm business surviving the next 10 years is to make some safe, though unpalatable, assumptions, then plan accordingly.

Phil Christopher - Retired agri-marketer, former cowman and Milk Marketing Board farm adviser.
Phil Christopher - Retired agri-marketer, former cowman and Milk Marketing Board farm adviser.

Unless you are self-retailing to the public, these probably include:

 

  • UK Government agrees free trade deals which enable imports from countries with lower production costs and lower standards than ours.
  • There is little or no reform, any time soon, of broken supply chains, so farmers continue to be price-takers.
  • The Basic Payment Scheme is phased out to the existing timetable and replaced by lower, and much harder to obtain, payments for environmental gains.


By the way, I support ‘level playing field’ trade deals, UK supply chain reforms and payment for ‘public good’ outcomes, just do not bet your farm’s future on them.

Adopting this approach means catering for worst case scenarios.

It rules out unrealistic optimism or just hoping for the best. It demands a clear business model and workable plan.

For most farmers, this is probably as a producer of undifferentiated commodities at the lowest possible cost, the price of which is outside your influence.

This reality check is essential not only for viable business strategies, but also for the mental well-being of farmers and family members.

Otherwise, like insect grubs in an apple, feelings of injustice, lack of control or being trapped will eat away at anyone’s soul.


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Next, it is time for an unpalatable home truth.

In the commodity world you are serving, there is no entitlement to a minimum percentage of the end product’s retail value.

Unfortunately, in my personal view, this is one of the most troubling and futile unicorns to which UK farming’s establishment clings.

Reality

 

The harsh reality is that when your produce is in surplus, you are a price-taker and had better be good at keeping production costs at rock bottom.

In the rare event you are producing for an under-supplied situation, fill your boots while it lasts.

However, the time will come when this golden goose gets well and truly cooked, because either you and others expand too far, or your customers find cheaper suppliers elsewhere and your good thing becomes but a fond memory.

Whether business planning is second nature to you or not, a good approach is recommended by award-winning author Simon Sinek in his easy reading, seriously helpful paperback, Start With Why? On a clean piece of paper, write down in a few words why you are a farmer.

Then ask yourself, ‘but why is that?’ Repeat five or six times. Your piece of paper should lead you to what to do next.

Does it reveal the hunger and ambition to pursue change for the better? Or are you becalmed, bewildered and bereft? Even more serious are the Ds: drifting; demotivated or down in the dumps; depressed; or distressed.

If so, do not bottle this up any longer. Please share it with those closest to you. Remember, you can only make things better by challenging the status quo at home.

This comes from someone who has been there done that, in business and personal life.

If you have too and are willing to share it with Farmers Guardian readers, please let the editor know.

Maybe you don’t agree with something, or indeed anything, I write here, in which case please get in touch and argue your case.

You may be right and me wrong. Or we could both learn something useful. Someone much wiser than me once wrote: ‘A good solution to a worrying situation is decisive action’.

But this is up to you, not the farming unions, for example, whose lobbying for supportive Government policy is laudable, but takes place in a very inhospitable climate.

 

Follow Phil on Twitter - @philatredrock

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