A group of dairy farm business experts have joined forces to spark a debate about the future of the sector.
Cumbria dairy farmer Robert Craig, agricultural consultant Heather Wildman (Saviour Associates), accountant Rob Hitch (Dodd and Co) and regional agriculture director Neil Wilson want to lead a wider discussion about the way forward for UK dairying and engage the thoughts and analysis of business leaders in the process.
Operating under the banner of Agrihive, the quartet has drawn together a case study of a dairy farm which has all the characteristics of one which is struggling in the current downturn.
The plan is to launch the case study at a Agrihive UK dairy summit in London on November 3 and collate the thoughts and strategies of people inside and outside farming about what dairy units can do going forward.
Mr Craig said the dairy industry always dealt with crises in the same way, first looking to drive on-farm efficiency, then searching for someone to blame, and finally turning to representative bodies for help, but this had to stop.
He said: “Unfortunately, the cycle just continues again and again resulting in fewer and fewer dairy farms. If we are to stop the terminal decline of the UK dairy industry we need to try something different.
“Agrihive’s aim is to challenge some of the best business brains from outside of dairy farming to find innovative solutions to our industry problems which will help to transform an industry which is in decline to one which is profitable, robust, competitive and valued.”
Ms Wildman said while some farmers had got a grip on their business during the current slump, many faced seemingly unsurmountable challenges which required fresh thinking.
She added: “Farmers think they are unique and special but they are not, they are no different to the small family newsagent on the street corner or the family-run mechanic and petrol station in your town or village.
“Market forces, market share, costs, added value, technology, efficiency and succession are the same for us all. This is why we are looking to non-farming global businesses and sectors to learn how they are adapting to survive and prosper in a global market. What can we do differently? What do we need to do differently?”
Mr Hitch said: “I want the case study, asking what would you do in this situation, to be shared by as many people outside of the day to day world of dairy farming. It is a very small and insular world.
“Farmers need to recognise they aren't just the cowman, they are the chief executive of their farm.”
Mr Wilson said: “I believe that this project will help us to address the burden of a lack of financial literacy and market intelligence at the farmgate by introducing the topic and having it discussed in an open forum.
“We must all work together to help the industry progress, and in my mind Agrihive take us further down that road than we have been before with an open forum about the challenges of a real farm business.”
More information is available at www.agrihive.com
Agrihive was created by Australian entrepreneur and fifth-generation Western Queensland farmer James Walker who recently visited the UK and witnessed first-hand the struggles of UK dairying.
Mr Walker said he was driven to try and find answers for farmers, particularly family units, struggling in an increasingly volatile global market place.
He said: “The solutions may actually come from that family or from anyone else which has an interest in supporting farmers in the UK, we want a wave of ideas and Agrihive is a collective to build these new possibilities.”