Quiet times of year offer a perfect opportunity to step back and reassess business plans. So what strategic decisions are our four contributors making right now? Olivia Cooper reports.
NEAL SANDERS, HEAD OF MARKETING
Great leadership is one of the key ingredients in any successful business. Some of the key traits for effective leadership include being able to manage complexity, foster creativity and innovation, adapt to change, create lasting relationships, act strategically and have a vision for the future, as well as great communication and having clear goals.
When you read this month’s updates it is really easy to identify many of these characteristics in each farmer, just in these short snapshots – whether it is Tom Bradshaw’s market focus and networking, Oliver Savage’s planning because of delayed field operations, Mark Wood overcoming complex mapping issues, or Jimmy Gooderham’s decision to buy a strip-till drill for sugar beet.
All of these leadership traits will be needed across the country as we head towards a new era for farming in the UK – one where a focus on minimising unit costs of production will be vital for future profitability.
When field operations finally get under way at Cockerill Farms the labour demand will be extremely high, predicts Oliver Savage.
“All the crops are going to have to be sown at the same time, so I have been contacting third parties to secure some extra capacity – we have a plan B, C and D just in case.”
Mr Savage has also been using this quieter time to get up to date on in-house training and policies.
“We have been creating mapping references for contractors to help them find sites, and have got all of the kit – like sprayers and fertiliser spreaders - tested and calibrated. The products we are using are expensive so we want to make sure we are applying the right amount.”
Being relatively new to the job, Mr Savage is also reviewing company procedures and policies – although it is too early to tell if changes will prove successful.
“I am looking at doing in-house workshop repairs as some of the dealers’ hourly rates are quite expensive. We can see an obvious saving but we’ll also have to watch out in case it is an inconvenience to another aspect of the business.”
Farm manager at J.P. Clay, Fawley Court, Fawley, Herefordshire
The heavy snow in early March posed a challenge at Fawley Court, with calving in full flow and little opportunity to get onto the arable land.
“We have sprayed off some stubbles for spring cropping but we haven’t applied any fertiliser to the winter crops as I didn’t want it ending up in the River Wye,” says Mark Wood. At what is a slightly quieter time of year, he had been looking forward to doing some business planning, but instead has spent days in the office sorting out RPA mapping errors.
“They have increased the number of fields on one holding from 108 to 168, purely because fields have a grass margin across them – it is creating an awful lot of work.”
However, as a member of the AHDB monitor farm programme,there are plenty of opportunities to reassess business plans, with recent meetings looking at staff management, diversification, succession planning, manures and machinery capacity.
“It is a good chance to think outside the box. We are always making little changes and in a couple of years’ time I will look back and realise a lot of the have been as a result of the monitor farm meetings.”
Jimmy Gooderham has been strip tilling sugar beet into a spring barley cover crop for a few years to reduce wind blow on his light soils and has now bought his own drill.
“We had been strip tilling about 8ha using borrowed machines, but this year we will do about 40ha with our own drill,” he explains.
“Timeliness is the main benefit – last year the strip-tilled area was drilled a week later than the rest of the farm and that field was always behind. We can also use the drill to sow maize later in the year.”
Looking at the political landscape, the uncertainty around Brexit is a big issue.
“After the Basic Payment Scheme is reviewed we don’t know where we’re going to be,” he says. “We will have to work harder for support and take a more environmental approach. We will also have to strive for greater efficiencies if we’re going to compete on the world stage.”
But finding those efficiencies is no simple task.
“If there were easy wins we would already be doing them,” he adds. “We benchmark in-house as you have got to understand every element of cost.”
Owner at Fletchers Farm, Fordham, Colchester, Essex
Tom Bradshaw has devoted plenty of time recently to the strategic direction of his business, having spent a week on the Institute of Agricultural Management’s leadership programme and a couple of days with the Nuffield business group.
“It is good to reflect on the business direction,” he says. He expects the next financial year to be reasonable, but only because commodity prices are supported by the weak pound.
“But farm support is changing and that is going to create challenges. There will be restructuring and we need to focus on the opportunities.”
The biggest question is whether or not to try and expand the contracting business.
“We need to decide if we have the passion, drive and commitment to grow bigger or if we are happy where we are. We will only grow if we think it is going to make financial sense.”
Future planning will also depend on the outcome of Brexit trade deals, he adds.
“Can we compete on the world market? If not, we need to work out where our future lies. I think local markets are going to be incredibly important."
“I think we need to focus on short supply chains with a premium price.”