They may not see eye to eye
with him all the time, but
for most farmers the bank
manager is a fairly central
figure in their lives. In the
latest in her Day in the Life
series, Helen Lewis spent a
day with the man from
the Midland Bank
TRY telling an employed person his wages are to be cut by 30% for the next two years and see how he likes it, because that is what has generally happened to farmers. It would be a bitter pill for me to swallow if I had to take that kind of medicine."
Midland Banks regional agriculture manager for south Wales, Roy Davies, doesnt mince his words when on the topic of todays agricultural climate – even first thing in the morning:
"British agriculture is facing very difficult times. Since the early 90s, farmers have seen their living standards improve, expanded their businesses and then suddenly out of the blue, bang. BSE hits the headlines, subsidies are cut and our export trade drops as a result of a strong £."
"Even so, I can recall worse. Back in the early 70s I remember calves being sold for 50p each which, after the auctioneers commission, often meant a loss to the farmer."
At 55 and having been involved with agriculture all his life, Roy Davies has seen many changes in the industry. The younger of two brothers brought up on a family farm which could only support one son, he left home to study agriculture at university, spent 21 years as an adviser with ADAS before joining Midland Bank in 1986.
As we leave the office for the first of the days visits, I wonder why he took the step from advisory work to banking?
"With advisory work advice is all you can give. It is then entirely up to the farmer whether he acts upon it. As a bank manager I am involved in the financial aspects of a farmers business decisions and the involvement is continuous whether things go right or wrong," he replies.
11.am. After travelling 35 of the 24,000 miles Roy drives each year, we reach Chapel Hill Farm near Narbeth, home to Richard John and his family. Since taking over the tenancy of this dairy farm in 1989, Richard has undertaken some radical improvements with Roy managing the business finances. Apart from a new parlour system, the cow numbers and milk quota levels have already been significantly increased.
Despite this considerable expansion programme, Richard has yet more plans and requested a meeting with Roy to discuss increasing the cow numbers further and possibly leasing in more quota:
"Roy has been my bank manager since I started and, above all else I trust his judgement. Not that we have always seen eye to eye though; on a few occasions over the years I have wanted to borrow more money off the bank and Roy has held me back. But he always gave his reasons why and I have had to see his point. After all hes the expert on the finance side," Richard admitted before he and Roy leave me admiring the parlour while they get down to the serious money talk.
1pm. After leaving Chapel Hill Farm we grab a quick sandwich in a lay-by and after phoning the office to check for messages Roy comments on the previous visit:
"Handling the account of an ambitious and successful farmer such as Richard and knowing I have played some part in helping him build up a well run business is the biggest buzz for me.
"However, there is no room for sentimentality. First and foremost I am responsible for lending money correctly and like a salesman I have targets to reach and must sell my commodity – money – and make a profit on it," insisted Roy.
As a bank manager he is also expected to keep abreast of all current agricultural commodity prices and legislation changes and whenever possible visits the markets throughout his region. Today we call in at nearby Whitland market to meet a few customers and generally make a note of the days sale. The market is selling dairy cows, breeding ewes, fat lambs and fat cattle, giving him a fair range of prices to digest:
"Going to the market is all about showing an interest in what goes on around the locality. Farming communities are totally different to towns. The market is the hub of agricultural society. Anyway, there is always the chance I might pick up a new account too," he smiles.
"Also I must keep up to date with what is going on and what prices livestock and crops are selling at. If a farmer rings me up asking for a loan, say, to buy more cows I must be aware of what type of cows he wants and what they will cost, to assess if it is a viable proposition."
Roy and his three colleagues deal exclusively with farm accounts in south Wales.
All the larger loans come directly under these four agricultural managers and although a branch manager may still deal with smaller borrowers, they are on hand to offer guidance to these customers too.
2.30pm. From the market we head for our next visit at Mr Thomass farm near Crymych. Although Roy travels to around 90% of his customers once a year to undertake an annual loan review, he will also visit when any major alterations to the farm business occur.
This visit was arranged to discuss a radical enterprise change. Mr Thomas recently sold all the milk quota to pursue a beef and sheep system. The problem Roy has to address is how best to channel the money from the milk quota sale into buying suckler cow and sheep quota and suitable livestock:
"This is the best part of the job, getting out on to the farms and being involved in the complete cycle that is farming. There is no other industry like it," he explains.
4pm. From the Crymych area we return to Carmarthen and the show ground venue of the recently held Welsh Dairy Event. As Midland Bank is one of the main sponsors, Roy needs to review its success and consider future involvement.
As expected, the events chief executive confirms attendance was up and a small profit expected.
5pm. Back at the office Roy signs the letters dictated earlier this morning and bids me goodbye – but his day is far from over. Tonight, he is attending a local farmers conference co-sponsored by the Midland Bank, but first his boss (one of the conference speakers) needs collecting off the London train.
With over 100 farmers expected to attend the discussion, aptly titled Dairy farming – coping with change, it promises to be an interesting, if not long, night ahead.
Left: Roy Davies (right) and farmer Richard John tour the new milking parlour at Chapel Hill Farm, Narbeth. Below: Reviewing the days trade at Whitland market with local auctioneer Martin Jones of JJ Morris Auctioneers (centre) and a local farmer.