Sally JacksonSally Jackson ©Jim Varney

Henry Ford once said: “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at 20 or 80. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.”

I have found many big companies don’t seem to learn from their customers. We recently decided to move our telephone lines from Utility Warehouse to Vodafone via our local farming co-operative. The deal rates were good and the local lady from the co-operative was friendly and helpful, as always.

The problem came when we gave Vodafone the telephone numbers to transfer. Vodafone had no record of one of the lines existing and therefore it could not transfer the number. I then suggested the adviser should ring the telephone number to check that it was real. He didn’t want to.

Recently I called HMRC to try to explain where I had gone horribly wrong on my RTI submission. The lovely lady I spoke to confirmed she could indeed see where I had gone wrong on the online system, but she couldn’t put it right herself as it may be considered fraudulent.

See also: Work to a ripe old age but plan ahead

It strikes me that sometimes all that’s needed is an injection of common sense. One telephone call by Vodafone would confirm the existence of a telephone line. One small amendment on an RTI form, with a note explaining why, could have saved HMRC work and money and me heartache.

 It is the tiny, practical ideas that come with experience.

I have recently been judging farmshops for the annual Farmers’ Retail and Markets Association (Farma) awards. I am looking at small farm shops, some new, some more established.

I am constantly amazed at how diverse these retail outlets are and how the really good ones are constantly learning from varied sources.

The best owners are those who attend conferences, take road trips to suss out new ideas and use their local network of farm businesses to share best practice and ideas. The Farma stand at the recent Farm Innovation Show was inundated by farmers looking to diversify and sell direct. We hardly stopped talking all day.

I am so proud of the farm retail industry, where farmers have the courage of their convictions and passion to sell their own produce and support the local community in so many ways.

Their willingness to learn and grow, their openness and generosity to other members, especially those just starting out, constantly amazes me.

It is the tiny, practical ideas that definitely come with experience. Our lovely stockman, Cameron, is only 20. He struggled to get some sheep loaded the other day (it was near firework night and they were a little spooked).

Andrew suggested he feed them a little food every day for a few days before loading in the corral to get them used to it. Perfect. The little tricks you learn with experience make life so much easier.

I was spouting words of wisdom to the eldest many years ago, when he was about 15, and I remember him saying: “One part of me knows I should listen to you, as you have done it all, but you have to realise, Mum, that I have to make the same mistakes you did to learn.” Daft, but true.

Someone who has learned a huge amount is our apprentice, Josh. He has been with us for more than three years and has just decided to branch out and become self-employed. I warned Andrew this would come after he was seconded to peas during the pea harvesting season.

This incredibly capable and hardworking lad has always told me he isn’t cut out for a management role.

When he was thrust into the fast pace of pea harvesting, having to organise lorries and deliveries, he suddenly found he could.

We are incredibly proud to have trained him, although it is nearly all down to Carl, Andrew’s right-hand man. Carl has taught him about attention to detail, taking care of tools and machinery and the importance of planning.

More importantly, Carl has taught him, by example, that farming has never been a 9-5 job and that getting up to spray at 4am is normal.

He now goes into the world equipped with practical qualifications, (supplied by Andrew, rather than his agricultural college). We will all really miss him and are really glad he will continue, in his words, to “live the dream”.

One thing the current husband has learned recently is in order to raise money for charity you must be prepared to make a twit of yourself.

He once raised money for a cycle ride (before he became a fully fledged Mamil (middle-aged man in lycra) and, with the clever placement of a banana in his lycra shorts for the online photo, increased his street cred so much (or just made people chuckle) that he collected far more than we ever thought possible.

He has now grown a moustache for Movember. It is horrible and every time I look at him I still do a double-take. If you want to sponsor him for this amazing cause (and have a laugh at his expense), go online to donate, using “Andrew Jackson” as reference.

He is, unfortunately, not the good-looking participant, second from right, but he is the farmer jumping on a concrete “ball” in Birmingham. I’m not sure he will ever grow up.


Sally and husband Andrew farm 364ha just outside Scunthorpe in north Lincolnshire. They have a farm shop, The Pink Pig Farm (a former winner in the diversification category of the Farmers Weekly Awards), with a 90-seater café and farm trail. Sally is chairman of the Farmers’ Retail and Markets Association (Farma).