Oxford Farming Conference upcoming chairwoman Sally Williams spoke to Lauren Dean about staying ahead of the game, why technology is the future, and why she thinks more women should be in leadership roles.
Being one-step ahead is key to any successful business and it is something Sally Williams and her family take pride in.
The 2021 Oxford Farming Conference (OFC) chairwoman, who has been working on the family farm since she graduated in 2009, admits she is always on the lookout for new things to ‘keep us ahead of the game’.
A robotic milking parlour is just one of those things, having first been implemented into the family’s pedigree Holstein herd on a 50 per cent basis in 2009.
Milking became 100 per cent robotic in 2017.
Mrs Williams said: “It is the utilisation of resources in the most appropriate way and I think technology has a massive role to play in taking the industry forward. For me, it is definitely the future.”
The family runs a 1,500-strong sheep flock, with Cheviots as the hill breed as well as Cheviot mules, Suffolks, Bluefaced Leicesters and Texels.
Mrs Williams said: “We try not to overcomplicate what we are doing and with Brexit coming, it has made us take a step back and look at exactly where the whole industry is going to go.
“Is there going to be demand for our product across the board?”
Undoubtedly, the future will bring opportunities, but Mrs Williams fears agriculture as a whole will be put under pressure.
Consumers are driven by price points and agricultural businesses need to be looking at the bigger picture, she said.
“Agriculture is overly guilty of forgetting what the end market is,” Mrs Williams added.
“You have to be realistic about what you are looking at in terms of the capabilities, but you also have to bear in mind what is going on in the wider world, what the trends are and what the consumer wants.
“We are dealing with massive uncertainty at the moment and it is about making sure the industry is best placed to cope with whatever comes its way.”
Being best placed to tackle the future head-on is something Mrs Williams is keen to up the ante on – as well as positive change.
She describes her approach with the farming crowd as ‘honest’.
She added: “At the end of the day, the only way you can make positive change and improve is by being fundamentally honest about where you are coming from.
“If you are in a state of denial about the situation, you are never going to get where you want.”
Speaking from experience, and raising young daughters along the way, Mrs Williams is keen to see more women in leadership roles.
She says: “I am not comfortable with the idea anyone is given a role based on who they are and who they know.
“They need to earn it. As someone who has come through the whole industry, I have always been somebody who has stepped up to the plate in the hope I am then encouraging others to do the same.
“For me, if I can go out and do the most I can, stretch myself and push myself, my two daughters growing up behind me will see it is perfectly normal and no longer then will they be aware of a glass ceiling.
“If I do not do it, I cannot expect anybody else to step up to the plate either.”
Sally Williams was appointed her three-year OFC directorship in 2018 and will officially step up as chairwoman on January 10, 2020, for her final year. The conference takes place from January 7-9, 2020.