As the phasing out of farm subsidies gets closer, FG has been talking to NZ businesses about lessons learnt and how to ‘farm smarter not harder’.
Keep things simple, use data to make decisions, and be open to change – are all lessons UK farmers can learn from New Zealand’s experience of farming without subsidies.
The messages came from three NZ businesses as part of a Farmers Guardian / New Zealand webinar held last week.
New Zealand ended its farm subsidies in the 1980s, causing a huge shift in the agricultural sector. Many businesses did not survive, but those that did are now known the world over for being business- and export-savvy.
The phasing out of subsidies in the UK, while painful, could drive better business success if farmers remain open to change, said the three NZ businesses taking part.
“It will be a generational shift, but I think that is a great opportunity for UK farmers to take stock and take advantage of that period of change,” said David Kirby, UK and Ireland MD at Figured, which produces farm account management software.
“For us, that means getting your farm and team ready for change, [such as] introducing new technology. Farming smarter in the NZ context means looking at return on effort, so getting a really clear idea about what can make a difference to your bottom line.”
Put monetary figures to activities, advised Angus Hewetson, global business development manager at Hustler, which produces building and feeding equipment.
“I think it’s important to start ‘dollar-ising’ some of the savings and costing, and using data and technology to do this,” he said, which could yield important insights:
“For example, farmers might see obstacles in grass-fed or free-range farming, but have they actually calculated the cost of collecting and spreading manure [in an indoor system]?
Farmers might also spend a lot on quality feed, but not factor in the wastage from inefficient feeding methods, he said. “It’s something that because it’s been traditionally done, it’s not being considered,” he said.
One of the biggest lessons from NZ, is the culture of openness, agreed the speakers.
“I don’t know if that’s a Kiwi thing or if it’s come from that market shift,” said Mr Kirby. “But the extent to which they are prepared to share knowledge, insight and data, is something we can definitely learn from.
“Farming smarter is about being open to opportunity, looking at what’s out there and trying new things. Often, this can be small innovations that add up to make a big difference,” he said.
The key, is that the whole farming team – including outside advisers such as accountants and agronomists – look at the same data and collaborated to make gains, he said.
While UK farmers are ‘relatively forward thinking’ about investing in technology, the biggest issue is whether that technology makes a difference to the bottom line, warned Mark Ryder, general manager at LIC Europe, a dairy cattle genetics company.
“NZ farmers would be looking at their overall business before making any investment decisions on new technology and asking – ‘is is going to have any impact on the bottom line and is it going to bring any value to my lifestyle [and time with] the family?’,” he said.
“Have a really strong plan for the farm finances – understand what inputs drive what costs, and how you can maximise profit. Make decisions based on a clear understanding of economic impact.”
-David Kirby, UK and Ireland managing director at Figured
“Keep it simple - identify what the fundamentals of your business are. For example, what’s the fertility of your cows? Are you getting the most out of your grass? These will have an immediate impact on the bottom line.
“Tradition doesn’t mean it makes sense. Think about your lifestyle – could introducing a bit more technology mean you can get a better work life balance?”
-Mark Ryder, general manager at LIC Europe
“Look at things positively – rethink the everyday, try to see the challenges and pressures as opportunities to move forward and increase the bottom line and have a better lifestyle.”
-Angus Hewetson, global business development manager at Hustler