In the sixth in this series looking at measuring success in beef, we look at how effective communication and providing staff with the correct training and health and safety support will help farmers achieve an efficient and profitable business.
Tess Howe, senior skills manager at AHDB, says: “Getting your farm business in shape and ready for opportunities post-Brexit is now a priority for farm businesses.
“Paying equal attention to your management skills should be no different and will help deliver tangible benefits to support the longevity and sustainability of your business.”
An industry coalition, including NFU, AHDB, agricultural colleges and leading food producers, manufacturers and retailers, has recently announced a new skills strategy.
This highlights that the industry’s skills need to be better assessed, understood and delivered, and employers should be encouraged to view labour as an asset and investment, not just a cost.
Clare Hill, farm manager at FAI Farms, says the importance of training for everyone involved in a beef businesses should not be underestimated.
She says: “From an industry-wide point of view, we need to be providing continual training opportunities to ensure we have the best people working within our industry.”
She says training does not necessarily have to be costly from a monetary and time point of view, and says there are plenty of affordable, and on some occasions free, short courses on offer.
“Many vet practices offer practical one-day courses covering a range of areas, for example foot-trimming, correct use of vaccinations and antibiotics, and calving. That one day spent off-farm can be really valuable in terms of upskilling a member of staff, who can also go onto upskill other members of the team.”
Communication can often be a real issue within farming businesses, but Heather Wildman, of Saviour Associates, says it is important to make sure people feel like they are involved and part of the business.
“Team meetings are a good starting point, but some people like them and others hate them. So rather than a formal meeting, it might just mean taking the time to discuss current or future events while working together.”
If you are going to hold more formal meetings, Mrs Wildman advises booking these in advance and setting agendas so employees can prepare and bring ideas and solutions to the table.
While family labour makes up a large portion of staffing requirements on UK beef farms, for those needing to take on outside help, there are a number of ways to ensure this goes as smoothly as possible.
Mrs Hill says, before advertising for a new member of staff, it is important to think about what the business actually needs.
She says: “This means sitting down and reviewing where the business is, and where it is heading. If you are replacing an existing member of staff, are you just looking for a direct replacement? Is this the right thing for the business?”
If employing several members of staff, Mrs Hill says it is also a good idea to talk to existing employees, as there may be an opportunity for move - ment within the team.
Time should be taken during the interview process to make sure the right candidate is eventually selected. Mrs Hill recommends having a two-part approach to interviews, so there is a formal element to it, but also the opportunity for a more relaxed walk around the farm.
She says: “It is important to make notes when interviewing candidates, so it is possible to make feedback when required.”
Health and safety is a fundamental requirement of a sustainable farming business and should be regarded as a fundamental part of management.
Mrs Hill says: “The statistics around on-farm incidents are pretty shocking, so a focus on health and safety is important from an ethical point of view.
“It is important to consider the needs of workers. As well as working towards safety, it will indirectly lead to a more productive workforce.”
The latest Health and Safety Executive figures show there have been 33 fatalities in 2017/2018, and eight of these were incidents involving cattle. Effective handling improves the safety of those working with stock, and enhances animal welfare, reduces labour needs and raises efficiency.
There are a range of other health and safety issues to be aware of, including vehicles, children on-farm and hazardous working conditions.
It can be an overwhelming issue, but Mrs Hill recommends farmers keep tackling any issues which may be of concern on their individual farm and use record-keeping to flag up problems.
She says: “For example, we have recently looked at our policy around the use of ladders on-farm. We have ensured there are no broken ladders and spoken to our staff to make sure they are being used correctly.
“Recording accidents and ‘near-misses’ can also be useful. Once you start writing these down, you can soon discover what is a problem on your farm and quickly do something about it.”