Graeme Surtees Associates, Aldcliffe, Lancashire
Consultants and advisers are often hard-pressed to convince farmers they have a practical understanding of farming. But for Livestock Adviser of the Year finalist Graeme Surtees, a man who describes himself as an accountant who feeds cows, this is never an issue.
“Having managed a 1000-cow herd, I’m fully aware of just what it takes to run and manage a modern dairy enterprise. While many consutlants spend hours sat at the kitchen table discussing the businesses, the first point of call whenever I visit a dairy client is the cows. Once I’ve seen the cows I can appreciate which way the business is going and how well the farmer is managing the herd.
“There’s little point discussing the finer financial points of the business unless I know the farmer has the ability to manage his cows to make money.”
Not that Graeme is solely involved in cow management, as goat herds and milking sheep also form part of his client portfolio. “A number of clients also have diversifications, including sky-diving and fishing lakes.”
Services offered by the business Graeme established just six years ago include nutrition advice, forage-crop husbandry, animal comfort and welfare, building design and benchmarking. “We aim to provide sound, practical advice which empowers clients to become the best they can in the direction that suits them and their personal circumstances.
“The aim is to provide a holistic advisory service which deals with all aspects of the business. After all, whatever I advise on the nutritional side will have an impact on the financial side. The two sides of the business have to go hand in hand.”
Cows are clearly Graeme’s passion and to hear him speak of his client’s herds is inspiring, not least because you regularly feel he has deep regard for his clients’ farming abilities.
Cow health is another area close to his heart and he regularly speaks to vets working with his larger clients to assess where health issues exist and are being countered. “Clients are advised to keep a daily record of metabolic issues and set targets for future incidence. In the main I want to see fewer than 5% of cows suffering with milk fever or retained placentas and fewer than 3% experiencing displaced abomasums.”
But often it can be difficult for clients to appreciate how changes can be made. So getting them on to other farms through on-farm meetings and study trips has been key to helping Graeme convince his farmers of the need for change and their ability to improve business performance.
“With new clients I expand this idea by taking them to see one of the best-performing exisitng clients. This helps them see where they could get to and how they could get there. The top 25% of clients are generally the most technically efficient and this, in turn, leads to cost control and hence improved financial performance.”
And with farming blood most definitely coursing through his veins, it’s to practical agriculture which Graeme hopes one day to return. “There are few things as rewarding as farming and it’s where I want to end, although nothing is set in stone.”
With farming becoming more important globally as food shortages and ag-inflation continue to make the headlines, Graeme is certain the indsutry has much to be positive about and intends to play his part in helping farmers profit from the future.
What the judges liked
- Passion for success
- Encouraging holistic approach
- Driven by practical farming
- Communicates regularly with clients
- Buying group secretary
- Two-partner firm
- Independent livestock consultancy