Rory Christie is a board member of the Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society (SAOS), which provides advice on collaboration to people in food and agriculture, he says: “Most of my time is spent collaborating now.”
Back in 2013 Rory started his first major collaboration – the creation of a dairy co-op which now supplies 210 million litres of milk from 134 dairy farmers to Lactalis.
Now, the Port William farmer, who has 1,350 cows and 200 breeding sows, is working with two dairy farmers and Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), developing cutting-edge technology to genetically identify the top 10 percent best cows in their herds.
Sexed embryos using eggs from these cows will then be placed into less genetically superior herd members.
By working together, the three farmers are providing scientists with 4,000 cows to test. In return, they will use the technology to improve their herds.
“You have to have the right mindset for collaboration,” says Mr Christie.
“To collaborate regardless of differences, you have to be able to let things flow and not empirebuild, but to listen and be able to see long-term benefits.
"Together we are stronger, so get in the challenge-room together"
It helps you draw down, or pool funds.
“It’s much more enjoyable [than working on your own] – the people I’ve met are amazing,” says Mr Christie.
You can access expert advice and skills you would never normally be able to on your own.
Mr Christie says: “Three people know more than me. It pulls intelligence together – not just brains, but actual intelligence gathering, i.e. data.”
Mr Christie says: “As an individual, no matter how big your farm is, you are a minnow in a sea of sharks. We have to stand together if we want any chance of survival. By joining up intelligence, our combined power outweighs the sharks.”
If you’re new to collaborations, where do you start? “Always concentrate on the outcome you want,” advises Mr Christie.
“Understand your dreams and start to enable them.” As a first step, gather a group of farmers to go and learn something together, he suggests.
Then sit down and talk about what you have learnt and what you could do differently.
Research what existing groups are out there, such as marketing co-ops, benchmarking and discussion groups.
Try to join a smaller co-op first, as you are likely to be closer to the decision making. Bear in mind that the value is not just in the end price you get.
Consider pooling resources. For example, collectively pay an expert to look at your milk contracts, or opt to buy machinery together.
Leave your baggage behind and go in with an open mind. Be respectful. Whatever state your business is in, bring it to the table.
Employ a facilitator to help generate meaningful conversations. Always maintain respectful dialogue – everyone’s opinion is valid and should be considered. Listen properly, pause, then ask.
If you own your products end to end, you retain the value. If you just grow oilseed rape, then you sell oilseed rape. But if you have a plant to process it, then you sell rapeseed oil.
See what machinery rings are around you. Go to their AGM and find out what they have and how it operates.
If you join an existing co-op, make sure you understand its power. The key thing is to understand your rights and power.
The biggest collaboration opportunity is on data. Data is in your soil, your beef cattle, your dairy cows, everywhere. If you own your data, everything has value.
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