The Scottish Association of Young Farmers Clubs (SAYFC) hosted their third annual Agri and Rural Conference last weekend in Aberdeenshire. Striving for excellence was at the heart of discussion and members were offered advice and inspiration to make it happen. Farmers Guardian reports.
Being honest with yourself is the key to making your business thrive and achieving your aims. This was the message delivered by Alan Laidlaw, chief executive of the Royal Highland Educational Society of Scotland.
Mr Laidlaw took to the stage and encouraged members to have confidence, passion and courage to take on challenges. He also emphasised the importance of you as an individual and planning ahead.
He said: “If you don’t know your business and you don’t know yourself it will never thrive. Take time to listen, ask questions and find out what is frustrating the team and how you can help the business together.”
“One of the most nerve-racking tasks is picking up the phone and asking someone you don’t know for help. But what is the worst which can happen – they say no. Asking for assistance helps me become better at my role which in turns helps my team do better.”
He also told delegates it is not about reinventing the wheel but asking yourself what you want to be and what you want to achieve.
“A Harvard Business School report highlighted those who had a clear goal, which was written down made 10 times more than those who did not.”
“Networks are essential. A support network which understands you will notice your blind spots and won’t be afraid to tell you. Remember, not every knock back is because of you. It could just be timing or because another opportunity is better suited to your goals.”
Alan also encouraged the group to think before saying no to opportunities, despite the feelings of fear of tackling them head-on.
“Make sure you are ready for the challenges which are coming. Remember, growth and making yourself better can come from the times when you feel uncomfortable.
When you are feeling really low, try to put it in perspective and be honest. If you made a mistake, admit it, and if you need help, ask.”
A three-strong panel was asked what drives excellence in Sunday’s session with members.
Pat Machray, chairman of ANM Group; Kirsten Williams, a beef and sheep consultant for SAC Consulting; and Martin Birse, farm manager at Pitgaveny Farms, Elgin; were held to task as members quizzed them on how they could incorporate it into their own lives and business.
We take a look at three of the best questions they faced.
Pat: Keep the main goal in mind, but set yourself small steps which are achievable to help you reach the main goal. The farming pace is not always a quick one. You won’t reach your goals overnight so plan ahead.
Kirsten: Be realistic about what you can achieve and by when. Measure your outcomes and benchmark them so you know where you sit in the industry.
Martin: Keep asking yourself what are the steps to get there and continuously measure and assess your journey in reaching these goals.
Pat: People give in too early. The only thing which stops yourself is you. You have got to believe in your goals and have the right attitude. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Kirsten: Keep your goal in mind and don’t let anyone know you down <<>> Just keep working away to achieve your aim.
Martin: Recognise the type of person you are and look at your team/network so you understand their skills. Then work out what other skills you require to reach your goals. If you have concerns or face problems along the way, find a way round it and don’t give up.
Pat: Get more involved beyond the farmgate. We are an important part of the UK economy but we don’t get enough recognition. For example, we preserve our land by protecting our environment. Beyond the farmgate is an area we can influence a lot. The public need to understand more about what goes on at our farms and how there it is much more than just rearing a cow.
When we do engage, for example by going into a supermarket to talk direct to consumers, it is always welcomed and seen as a positive.
Kirsten: Forget the red tape, achievements can be made without Government subsidies. Be efficient in everything you do and shout about all the positive aspects. There are so many elements to talk about.
Martin: Go out, tell the good stories and highlight how successful we are. We have a good industry in the food and drink sector, we need to put this positive message out across other industries to show we are an exciting sector linking a wide range of careers. We need to engage with the youth so they want to be in our industry.
SAYFC agri and rural affairs chairman Sarah Allison helped put together this year’s programme. We catch up with her to find out more.
What themes have you focused on for this year’s conference and why?
We focused on ‘cultivating excellence’ and wanted to show and inspire our members on how to become the best they can be, and give them the skills and attitude to realise their true potential.
We did this by orgnaising three farm visits run by innovative farmers operating on different systems in different sectors. Our speakers focused on ways to achieve excellence, such as financing diversification and precision farming opportunities.
Do you come from a farming background?
I come from a 1,416-hectare (3,500-acre) hill farm near Edinburgh. When I left school I worked in our family butchery, co-ordinating staff and supplies for the multiple weekly farmers’ markets we attended before going to study at the Scottish Agricultural College. I now work for agricultural consultants Laurence Gould, Dunfermline.
Why are you interested in the agri side of the organisation?
I really enjoy analysing and developing agricultural policy and its effect on Scottish farming. Being involved in the agri side of Young Farmers is so rewarding as you are helping shape the future of the industry. Hopefully, as a result of some of our activities, this future may be a bit brighter.
What have you learned since being chair?
Since coming on as chair, I have learned not to be afraid to stand up and question what is going on round you. Questions prompt thought and discussion, and sometimes this can be important in showing how different issues affect the younger generation differently.
What opportunities and challenges are facing young people working in the farming industry looking ahead to next year?
Looking to 2017, we can safely say we are going to have plenty of challenges. Commodity prices are slowly improving, but sterling’s weakness has supported this to some extent, so any recovery there could cause some pressure. However, with Government giving the reassurance Pillar Two support will remain in situ until 2020, we need to start the process of getting farming businesses ‘match fit’ to deal with any farm support changes, and using these schemes while we have them.
Was there anything highlighted over the weekend which surprised you or made you think about things differently?
Alan Laidlaw, chief executive of the Royal Highland society, gave an amazing talk on creating excellence on Saturday afternoon. He reminded me success doesn’t happen overnight, so it is important to keep going back to your plan and reviewing it to get to where you want to be. It was really reassuring.