Tim Gibson farms in Bedale, North Yorkshire, milking 200 commercial cows and 85 pedigree Guernseys under contract for ice cream, with four Lely robots. Tim also runs a separate dairy engineering and supplies business from the farm.
Welcome to 2017! The New Year spells a time to reflect on the old and look to the future. I’ve had a look back at my New Year January columns on archive and in doing so it made me feel nostalgic, emotional and, more worryingly, old.
For a start, for us as a family, it brings back memories of losing Dad the week before Christmas, and even though it is now 12 years since he passed away, we don’t forget it. But the New Year always spells a fresh start and time to look forward. I always work Christmas Day, but this year I have had yet another change of staff.
It seems to be an everlasting issue for us to find staff for the farm even though we have robots to do the milking. Our issue is housing, and to get the right people we need to house them. There are simply too few locally who know much about dairying any more as we live where there are far fewer cows and dairy units than in other parts of the country.
I remember from the early days of selling robots that they sold best in the areas where there were fewer cows, but this caused the manufacturers issues over service needs as 24/7 cover would be an issue with some customers. It’s not only the sparsity of locals as there are less ‘spare’ sons and daughters who are needing a job away from home, but who could still live at home.
Finding people is very hard and now, with me doing other things off the farm a lot, I need a responsible person to manage and run things day to day. We have had too many come and go recently, but it mainly stems from having to employ young single, people who don’t need a big house.
When we lost Dad, my Mum moved into the village and I split the main farm house into two, so I could provide some accommodation on farm and live in one end myself. It made a two bedroom cottage and so far the people we have had in there tend to be young and single and less able to settle. I have also tended to pick younger people to work for me as being relatively young myself I found the older employees didn’t take me so seriously! Also the younger ones tend to pick up robots and software much easier.
To try to counter this problem we have been building a new house on the farm. This was probably not the best year to be building houses, and trying to do it without borrowing too much. Getting planning permission in the first instance was a challenge and this we started when Dad was alive by getting a mobile home on the site initially for four years, and the council said if that was there and justified after four years we could apply then for full planning.
After those years were up we enlisted the help of a planner to get the house I wanted passed. I had in mind one I had seen and contacted the architect who designed it for a copy of the plans. He agreed and for a modest fee we submitted them with few alterations.
Over the course of the six months of going back and forth to the council, the planner who helped me got more and more involved. To the point where I asked if the house was going to be for me or for her, she replied if I played my cards right it could be for both of us!
We have now been together for five happy years. Pressure is now on to finish the house, she having got the permission and moved into the existing ‘bachelor pad’ we need more space.
Next Christmas would be a nice target to set ourselves but we will have to see how the milk price goes before then. Luckily Maria is very understanding.
She has a lot in common with my bank manager!
Once we do get the new house finished and we’ve moved in, this will free up the existing house for a herdsman and family which will enable us to recruit from a better position of offering a family home with the job.
Since moving here, Maria has set up in business of her own doing planning work, helping to get permission for people in the local area. She has a specialist knowledge which people are happy to pay for, and it’s been her who lead me into doing my own consultancy and advisory work. For me, the first few years getting established in advisory work have been hard but now I have plenty of work myself.
I am much happier helping people than trying to do the high pressure sales work. In many ways the help I give saves people from needing to listen to the sales talk and educates them in what they really only need to buy.
As we get into the New Year, I wish you all a better and sustainable milk price in 2017, and may all your Basic Payments roll into your banks on time!