College Calendar: Steve Mears is doing the sums

Analysing balance sheets, creating profit-and-loss accounts and working out equity ratios was not what I had in mind when I applied to study an agriculture degree. I guess the thought of driving sparkling new tractors put a silver lining over some of the more serious aspects of the degree, namely farm financial management.

However, as I have discovered, a knowledge of such matters is one of the most important skills a successful farm manager can possess. This is apparent with the continued drive for agricultural businesses to reduce production costs to continue making a profit, while competing with relatively low market prices and rising input costs.

We’ve been taught the basic principles of farm financial management in lectures and tutorial sessions this year. But, presumably to make sure we were paying attention since then, my course mates and I have recently been assessed on what we have learnt. These assessments have consisted of an exam and a written piece of coursework.

During the hour-long exam, students were asked to prepare a balance sheet, profit-and-loss account, and an annual flow of funds statement from data provided on an agricultural business. The coursework, which fortunately had a longer time limit than the exam, involved analysing the accounts of an arable farming enterprise and writing a report assessing the business.

After much head scratching, revision of lecture notes and brain ache, I completed the exam with seconds to spare and handed the coursework in on time. These assessments make up 50% of the overall mark for the farm financial management module and it will be interesting to see how I performed.

As well as getting my head around financial data, I began learning about the poultry industry during animal production lectures. This is an area of the agricultural industry that, before coming to Harper, did not particularly interest me.

That said, poultry lectures and a talk from John Bowler Eggs at the Harper Forum in the first term have changed my perspective. The Harper farm is home to an intensive layer unit as well as a relatively new 7,500-bird free-range unit completed in late 2007. Tutorial sessions next term will involve visiting these two units and learning about the management required to operates these units.

The last few weeks of term were not all about working and studying, however. Along with friends, I visited Muck North West at Reaseheath College. Watching live machinery demonstrations of the latest manure spreaders and slurry injectors in glorious sunshine made a nice change to afternoon lectures. Several visits to the burger van, the latest information on nitrate vulnerable zones and a pleasant beer garden on the way back made the afternoon worthwhile and interesting.

I mentioned last month how I was looking forward to the Paddy’s Ball. Giant shamrocks hung from the ceiling of the Irish-themed bar and marquees as students and guests danced and socialised beneath to bands and DJs including Harpers own band The Sugar Beatz. Harper Ireland certainly pulled out all the stops to make it a fantastic evening.

With my second term over and now back home for Easter, I am keen to get out and start some practical farm work. Along with many students, I look forward to the holiday periods as a chance to get out, get my hands dirty, and put some of things that I have learnt into practice. Well, try to!