26 October 2001

New format but same standard of excellence…

FARM business administrators are the backbone of numerous farms throughout the UK and every year the cream of the crop fights it out to be acknowledged the industrys best.

But this years Institute of Agricultural Secretaries and Administrators competition was different to previous contests. A new name and new challenges replaced the traditional Farm Secretary of the Year format.

Detailed SWOT

The 2001 competitors had to come up with a detailed SWOT analysis for a real life case study farm (see facts box), a task usually handled by specialist consultants, and then suggest two ways the business could move forward and develop.

Each submission was assessed and seven finalists were invited to the two-day final held at a hotel deep in the Leics countryside. There they had to justify their proposals to a panel of probing judges, including Tim Porter, head of agriculture at principal sponsor Lloyds TSB.

"We wanted to up the ante," says Mr Porter, who feels the competition needs to reflect the changing role demanded by the job. And fellow judge Colin Fenwick, the banks Midlands senior agriculture manager, reckons all the entrants acquitted themselves very well.

"They all showed a lot of initiative and came up with some innovative ideas. It shows how FBAs are able to add even more value for farmers at a time when UK agriculture is going through such a challenging period."

One of the most interesting aspects of the new competition was the chance to visit the case study farm and compare notes with owners Steve and Anne Kirk on how the business could move forward.

Same issues

Interestingly, most of the contestants identified the same issues that were concerning the Kirks and some of their solutions were very similar to the farmers own ideas for the future.

Lack of land was one of the key factors identified as being a threat to the Kirks expansion plans and runner-up Jo Hoskings even boldly suggested upping sticks to a bigger farm.

In reality the couple have done just that; but without the hassle of moving. Since the finalists proposals were submitted earlier this year they have amalgamated the farm with a neighbouring 24ha (58-acre) Leicester County Council holding under a long-term tenancy agreement.

Competition winner Tracey Abell was also concerned that an opportunity was being wasted with all the units bull calves being killed at birth. Again the Kirks have done something about this, striking a deal with a local producer who will now buy the animals at 12-16 weeks.

"Killing calves is not what I came into this job for," says Mr Kirk. "At least now they should be a bit profitable." However, he shrugged off the contestants worries that lack of labour was also an issue, with little chance of time off for him and his young family.

"If I wasnt happy I wouldnt be doing this job and a big wage bill would just hold us back." Although the dairyman did admit that one day he hoped the business would be big enough to support a full-time worker.

Working hard

But for now Mr and Mrs Kirk are happy to work hard building up their herd, which they hope will one day number well over 250 cows – an expanded 20:40 herringbone milking parlour is already on the drawing board.

"With such dedicated and determined farming families ready to push the industry forward, and a pool of talented business administrators on hand to back them up, the future for farming looks far better than many people are predicting," says Mr Fenwick.

Renamed and revamped. This years farm business

administrator of the year competition had new challenges

for its competitors. Andrew Shirley reports on the final

What they won

AS WELL as the prestigious title, the winner of FBA of the Year took home an array of useful prizes and nobody went home empty handed.

Winner – A cheque from Lloyds TSB for £750, Farmplan business software worth £1000, a years subscription to IAGSA, RASE and farmers weekly and the handsome Black Horse trophy.

Runner-up – A cheque for £250, a years subscription to IAGSA and farmers weekly plus a Black Horse trophy.

All the other finalists received a bottle of champagne and a set of Lloyds TSB business guides.

CASESTUDYFACTS

&#8226 Name: Holt Farm.

&#8226 Location: Lutterworth, Leics.

&#8226 Owners: Steve and Anne Kirk.

&#8226 Farm details: Dairy unit with 170 pedigree Holstein Friesians averaging 7200 litres, total mixed ration feeding system with 9:18 herringbone parlour and 4500 litre bulk tank. Bull calves destroyed at birth.

&#8226 Labour: Mr and Mrs Kirk.

&#8226 Land Tenure: 26Ha (65-acre) core holding rented from Leicestershire County Council under agricultural holdings act tenancy. A further 61Ha (150 acres) of grass keep rented on various short-term farm business tenancies.

&#8226 Future plans: To build herd numbers to 220 by 2002.

The winners

UNLIKE previous competitions there was only one category to be fought for this year, and an extremely deserving Tracey Abell took the title of Farm Business Administrator of the Year, with Joanne Hosking a close runner-up.

Currently handling the administration of four farms, including the family holding, in the Suffolk area, Tracey is involved with all aspects of farm administration from cattle passports to business planning.

She studied as a mature student at Brooksby College, graduating with a Certificate for Administrators of Rural Business and the National Certificate for Farm Secretaries, both with distinction.

Tracey is not a newcomer to winning IAGSA awards. Last year she won the inaugural competition for the best continuing professional development portfolio and also claimed the mature student title in 1994.

Married with two young children, she says it means a lot to win the competition and believes the new format is a good idea. "A lot of us know more about the farms we help run than the consultants who visit them."

Second-placed Joanne, the youngest entrant at 28, is employed full-time on a 8000ha (20,000-acre) Devon estate and is chairman of the Cornish branch of IAGSA, which she restarted in 2000.

Not content with her Certificate for Farm Secretaries, she is a student member of the Association of Accounting Technicians and hopes to qualify as a full member soon.

Jo has already been runner-up in the IAGSA under-21 competition and will no doubt keep trying until she wins the coveted overall prize.