Phil farms 385ha (950 acres) in Cheshire, split between the family farm on Lord Cholmondeley’s estate and Organsdale Farm near Tarporley. He milks 300 cows, mainly pedigree Brown Swiss, as well as diversifying into business units and an equestrian facility. He is also a Nuffield Scholar. Twitter: @PhilLatham
Spring will be here soon and with it the start of another year’s growth. It is an exciting time. Winter drawing to an end and days are lengthening so it is time to prioritise what we need to do and finalise the plans for turn out, slurry applications, cropping and fertiliser.
Staffing issues are still foremost among our problems. The new tractor driver we appointed was working his final notice period for his previous employer when he clipped a curb in a tractor and ended up being thrown out of the cab window and getting trapped, breaking his femur in two places among other injuries. It is a great pity for us all now he cannot take the position.
I do wonder if our industry ought to consider a new voluntary code for dairy staff. In our attempt to restore a margin and control costs it has been tempting to reduce staff numbers and extend the working day. It is true the financial rewards can be good for youngsters but I wonder if we are expecting too much from today’s youngsters who have so many other options and career paths available.
If we could agree to reduced hours the job might become more attractive and we could at least ask the market to help fund the extra costs of more labour. Without something being agreed along this line I fear shortage of staff will intensify and we will just increase the speed at which we race towards a knackered back or a hip replacement.
Our workers have a standard working week of 55 hours and this is too much. However, when I interview people from other farms I see some employers expect their team to work 70 hours or more, and on split shifts, regardless of travelling time. This is not sustainable in the long-term.
Michael Gove has started talking about farming policy direction but I am worried about his words about productivity. When politicians tell us we are not productive enough I wonder they are rather missing the point.
If productivity is a measure of profit per hectare then there is a simple explanation why dairy struggles and this is we do not have the negotiating position in the supply chain to get fair reward for our product.
If politicians want to drive productivity they had best look at our terms of trade to ensure we have enough to reinvest for the future.