12 April 2002

Own-boss secretaries spread their nets wide

A knowledge of accounting

systems and an interest in

the countryside are among

the basic requirements for

a job as a farm secretary.

David Green reports

WITH agriculture in the doldrums there are not enough farm secretaries coming into the industry to meet demand in some areas.

However, there is a growth in self-employed "mobile secretaries", people who work for a number of farmers from anything between a few hours and several days each, a month.

They may have to work flexible hours to cater for the needs of individual farms but enjoy a degree of independence through being "their own boss".

Mother-of-two Joyce Crackles of Mill Farm, Kirkby Lonsdale in Cumbria, started out by helping with the accounts on her husbands 101ha (250-acre) farm.

Now she works for several farmers on a consultancy basis and is "virtually full-time".

"I loved what I did on our own farm and built up more and more work," said Mrs Crackles who has completed a series of training courses at her local agricultural college to increase the scope of her secretarial abilities.

Increasing "red tape" in all aspects of farming means that secretarial and administrative help is now essential on most holdings. People who have a good knowledge of accounting, budgets, cash flows, cost analysis, agricultural law, taxation, grants and subsidies are much sought after, and not only by the big estates.

The first requirement for anyone wanting to become a farm secretary or "rural business administrator" – as the job is now sometimes advertised – is a good all-round education with proven ability in maths and English.

Tact and diplomacy are useful but candidates also need to have energy, a sense of responsibility and the ability both to communicate and use their initiative.

&#42 Various courses

Courses available include those under the auspices of City and Guilds, HND and GVNQ. There is also a National Certificate for Farm Secretaries and various degrees in farm business administration.

Julia Taylor became a farm secretary even before meeting her husband, John, whose family farms nearly 1214ha (3000 acres) at Clopton, Suffolk. She completed a part-time farm secretarial course at Otley College, near Ipswich, before spending three years as secretary for a lamb marketing group and then four years for a farm growing vegetables for the supermarkets. For the past three years she has worked for her husbands business.

"I was born on a farm and have always been interested in the countryside," she said.

Julia, who has two children and works only part-time, believes there is plenty of scope for people to make a full-time career as a farm secretary and jobs with some of the bigger companies command relatively high salaries.

&#42 Range of work

Secretaries have to tackle a range of work including the recording of crop and livestock information, the completion of VAT and PAYE forms and the working-out of farm wages. Ensuring compliance with planning conditions, agri-environment schemes and all the legislation flowing out of Whitehall and Brussels are among other tasks.

"Lots of farmers are crying out for good secretaries. Many of them are computerised but cant cope with doing the office work and running the farm," said Julia.

She recently helped organise the national conference of the Institute of Agricultural Secretaries and Administrators (IAgSA), a professional body which keeps its members abreast of job opportunities, new legislation and deadlines for form completion.

Heather Shead secretary at

farmers weeklys farm, Easton Lodge, near Stamford, Lincs.