9 August 2002

Simplify your system – and get a life…

Stand back, simplify your

system and get a life was

the theme running through

a Mole Valley

Farmers/Duchy College

dairy conference at

Launceston, Cornwall,

where some speakers

had done just that.

John Burns reports

INSPIRED by dairy farmer Michael Murphys description of Irish and British producers as "heads down, arse up and no time to see the big picture", a Pembrokeshire couple changed their farming philosophy.

Sian Bushell, who farms with husband Anthony, said her visit to Mr Murphys unit in Co Cork, Eire, shocked them into changing from a high-cost, highly stressful system to a simple grass-based, spring-calving system.

The change has revolutionised their lives, she said. It had removed much of the drudgery and required much less labour than before.

"We still do the admin, but we do nothing outside now. We work on the business, rather than in it." They had exchanged limited horizons for a challenging, exciting lifestyle with a network of positive-thinking friends around the world.

They have also expanded their business interests and invested outside farming as well as looking at running large-scale dairy units as tenants on large estates.

"The biggest bonus has been education. Its enjoyable learning more about farming. For instance, our system is still not simple enough. Were learning about people management and about investment – you should know more than the estate agent or the stockbroker. Were educating ourselves on personal growth, too. Sorting out what we really want to do."

The Bushells like travelling and intend to do it now, not when they retire. But daring to be different could result in problems and criticism, she warned. "It can be very nasty and it can seem to outsiders that what you see as success they see as failure."

Consultant Kay Carslaw also emphasised the benefits of a well-run, simple, block-calving system in improving lifestyle. It allows time to think, gives something to look forward to and involves little stress for cow or man.

Quota agent Ian Potter added that producers should stop moaning about whats wrong with farming because nobody cared and concentrate on whats right.

He also urged them to spend time with their families before it was too late and warned that too many still pressurised children to farm, making life miserable for the whole family.

Duchy College lecturer and Nuffield Scholar Sharon Byles said all successful businessmen, including producers, should consider return on human, social and environmental capital, as well as money.

"We consistently find that when farming returns are squeezed the family is the first to get compromised.

"We need to build an understanding of all those involved in the business. There is still a huge gap between the time spent on the operational side of farming and the strategic side."

There was much talk about benchmarking, she said. But little or none of it was time-benchmarking – looking at other farms and seeing how time could be saved for other non-farming goals in life.

Ms Byles urged everyone to measure what matters and to understand that many meaningless measurements being used were driven by people living off farming, rather than producers themselves.

Some measures were meaningless in financial and profit terms, others also ignored important areas, such as personal development and family life. Above all, beware of averages, she said. Averages were not actual farms.

FW Farmer Focus contributor Chris Knowles from west Cornwall described how he was still working on reducing milk production costs.

But now he had two young daughters, he was also working towards an even simpler system to allow him to spend more time with them while they were growing up.

SIMPLE SYSTEMS

* Better use of time.

* Time for family.

* Measure what matters.