MBA scholarship aims to raise farm business skill level

Farming is a constantly changing industry that relies heavily on science and technology. With the average farm size growing steadily, success increasingly depends on management skills, the ability to analyse data and negotiate complex business deals beyond the farmgate.

In my opinion, if farmers are to compete on more equal terms, they need to fully embrace the science of management. This means developing business skills and capabilities that are common among managers operating at other stages in the food chain.

With this vision John Beckett, former chairman of Genus, established a scholarship that would enable enterprising farmers to study for an MBA alongside young executives from other sectors at the Cranfield School of Management – one of the world’s leading business schools. The MBA not only provides an excellent grounding in core business subjects such as economics, strategy and finance, but also has a reputation for developing students’ leadership and people skills.

A major advantage of studying for an MBA at a leading school is the opportunity to learn alongside people who have very different experiences and attitudes to farmers. Studying alongside junior executives from many of the world’s leading companies, fast-growing small to medium-sized enterprises and not-for-profit organisations, you would learn new ways to interpret and solve business problems. The other students would certainly benefit from your experience and knowledge too.

Despite the need for first-class management in farming, an MBA has not been a priority for many farmers due to the cost and partly because they appear to fear that they will not be able to cope. Mr Beckett was only too well aware that studying for an MBA involves a significant financial burden and so he launched the MBA Agrifarm scholarship to remove this obstacle for those farmers who would benefit greatly from the opportunity. The study is either full-time over 10 months starting in September 2014 or part-time over a period of 22 months starting in January 2014, so there’s time to organise logistics back at the farm.

Fears about coping

Let me reassure those who fear they might be out of their depth with the content of the scholarship. If you already have a degree you will have no difficulty in coping with the academic level of the work and success is largely dependent on your willingness to collaborate with others in teams to solve a range of business problems and develop your people skills. If you are not convinced, you can go online to to find contact details of past recipients of the scholarship who would be delighted to talk to you about their experience and how it has benefited their business careers.

On-farm benefits

Richard Milligan-Manby has an arable and beef family farm business in Market Rasen, Lincolnshire, which he believes has been improved by his learning through the MBA scholarship.

“Why take time out to study for an MBA? For me it was the fact I was involved in both farming and farmer-owned co-operatives,” he said. “I realised the world I had been trained for was fundamentally changing and I needed to adapt to the pressures of multinationals dominating our supply chain.

“Many of the decisions I take in farming are related to factors outside my control, yet the framework I operate within in terms of managing the business has been fundamentally enhanced by the experience of learning in the environment of an MBA.”

If you are a younger farmer who believes that farming is as demanding of highly skilled managers as other leading business sectors, this is a scholarship you should take the time to investigate. It follows that the trustees in awarding a scholarship will be looking for individuals who will repay the debt by taking every opportunity to raise the awareness of good management in agriculture. It is our intention that those participating will become ambassadors for a modern, well-managed agriculture industry that comprises highly productive and efficient farm enterprises operating on equal terms with other businesses in the supply chain.

More information on how to apply for the scholarship, as well as the attributes Cranfield and the scholarships trustees will be looking for in applicants, can be found at

Dr Séan Rickard is an independent economist to the farming and food industries and a trustee of the MBA Agrifarm scholarship.

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