7 July 1995

Red tape and paperwork- no problem…

By Philip Clarke

DESPITE the growing burden of paperwork, farm secretaries are noticeable by their absence on many farms.

Relatively few farmers make use of the professional services they offer, either on a full-time or part-time basis, says head of agricultural finance at Lloyds Bank, Pat Oakley.

"But the role of the secretary is becoming increasingly vital to the welfare of a farming business and can often make the difference between its success or failure.

"The secretary is there to help run the farm in an appropriate manner, leaving the farmer to manage the business to its maximum potential without having to worry about the administrative side," he says.

"The role calls on a wide range of skills and a constant need to keep up-to-date with changes in the industry. The secretary must be fully aware of all the issues affecting farming in Britain and Europe.

"For example, EU subsidies can be a large percentage of the income from any farm and a secretary must know about all the legislation and deadlines for submitting forms. Failure to do so can be disastrous because there can be heavy penalties for late submission."

In order to raise the profile of farm secretaries and reward them for the crucial role they play, the Institute of Agricultural Secre-taries and Administrators, together with FARMERS WEEKLY, Lloyds Bank, the Royal Agricultural Society of England and Farmplan, runs an annual competition to find the Farm Secretary of the Year.

After completing an initial round of questions, shortlisted candidates proceed to an on-farm interview stage to select the regional winners. These then go forward to a national final, to find the best in the land. (Separate student categories are designed to find the best under-21 – the Mary Collins Award – and the best mature student.)

Overall winner this year is Caroline Johnson, a freelance secretary from Burton Pidsea, Humber-side, who picked up her award at this weeks Royal Show at Stoneleigh.

The judges were impressed by her ability to cut through the bureaucracy and keep up to date with complex EC legislation.

As overall winner, she picked up a cheque for £500, a years subscription to the Royal Agricultural Society of England, a selection of Farmplan software and, of course, the Black Horse trophy. &#42

Caroline Johnson from Burton Pidsea, Humberside, shows off the prestigious Farm Secretary of the Year 1995 Black Horse trophy won at this weeks Royal Show at Stoneleigh. Caroline runs her own freelance business.

Vicki Lyons from Newton Abbot in Devon has been voted best mature student in the 1995 Farm Secretary of the Year competition. Until last year, Vicki was box office manager at the Brewhouse Theatre and Arts Centre in Taunton, but decided to return to college to study for the National Certificate for Farm Secretaries at Bicton Agricultural College. The dedication to go back to college to retrain impressed the judges in both the regional and national finals of the competition. Vicki, who is also chairman of the Young Farmers Ambassadors and has spent time working in Canada, received a cheque for £100 and a Black Horse trophy.

Jessica Gates, aged 17, of Low Thurlton, Norwich, took the runners-up prize in the student section of this years competition. The judges felt Jessica demonstrated a remarkable maturity and knowledge of the industry. She has spent the past two years studying for a BTEC national diploma in business and finance at Easton College in Norfolk.

After being voted Midlands winner in the regional finals, Shirley Hidderley from Stafford was narrowly beaten into second spot in the main competition to become a joint runner-up. The 31-year-old secretary of a 1200 acre family farm clearly believes in getting hands-on experience, being an accomplished relief milker as well as holding a truck drivers licence.

Showing she knows her way around the farm yard as well as the farm office is 20-year-old Jo Dakin – winner of the Mary Collins award for the best student under 21. Jo, who has spent the past two years studying at Brooksby Agricultural College, Leicestershire, demonstrated an early dedication to a farming career and a thorough knowledge of the industry. She has already put her studies to good use on the family farm in Shropshire and in local business. In addition to the Mary Collins award, she picked up a cheque for £125 at this weeks Royal Show.

Joint runner-up in this years competition is 24-year-old Sally Wood of Chesterfield, Derbyshire. Judges were impressed by the diversity of her work and her ability to adapt to the needs of different farming businesses. Among her nine agricultural customers is a bison farmer.