Last year was tough for many farmers. But 2015 presents the chance to put it behind you and look ahead with a fresh business perspective.
Being open-minded to others’ ideas and experience can help you think differently, try new things and move your business forward. Farmers Weekly asked its 2014 award winners to pass on a tip that has helped improve their business.
Arable Farmer of the Year and Farmer of the Year, Salle Farms Company, Salle, Norfolk
Don’t look at the individual harvest year as your profit centre – develop a 30-month marketing strategy to minimise the impact of an increasingly fluctuating market.
Sheep Farmer of the Year, Fearn Farm, Fearn, Ross-shire
Physically fit = mentally fit. Make time to look after yourself, there’s no point having a great team on the pitch if the captain’s not up to it.
Focus on what you can influence, don’t waste time and energy worrying about what you can’t.
Farm Manager of the Year, AJ Duncan, Aberdeenshire
If you measure it, you’ll improve it. One example was when we were drilling, we measured how much time was spent filling the drill, how much time turning at the ends and how much time actually drilling. We ended up making larger turns at the end of the field, and put someone on a machine taking seed to the drill and increased output by 15%
Also, giving staff certain tasks like reading electricity meters regularly, recording how much fuel they use on their tractor on a daily basis makes them more aware of the most efficient way to drive and with the electric meters, maybe flags up usage of electric that can be avoided.
Trust brings loyalty – give valued staff ownership of important sensitive information and they will value your confidence in them and respect you more for it.
Farm Contractor of the Year, Green Farm, Saxmundham, Suffolk
Consider whether co-operation can bring practical and financial benefits to your business. The Cantley Beet Group is in its third season, we pool quota so no-one needs to over- or under-deliver, which has obvious financial benefits and helps with quota retention.
The heavy land gets harvested first and takes a small loss on beet yield to get a good first wheat entry, while the lighter land waits longer but gets a beet yield benefit as a result. Because the quota is pooled, we also pool beet payments so that while we are all paid for the beet we individually produce, we all get cash flow through the season regardless of when our delivery dates fall. This is a big help.
There’s about 46,000t of beet in the group among 20 growers and I think the way we operate and the principles behind the group could be made to work in a wide range of farming situations and sectors.
Farm Adviser of the Year, Churchgate Accountants, Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire
Invest some time in the family. Arrange a family meeting to make sure everybody is happy and communicating. A properly functioning family will be happy and motivated, have a spring in their step and make more profit and enjoy the work. A dysfunctional family will probably make a loss.
Also, tell your next generation what is in your will – manage the expectations of the non-farming ones and the ones at home will then know what they are working for.
I worked in Australia and New Zealand a few years ago and found families to be more open and enlightened than in the UK.
Many of my farming clients will not divulge what is in their wills, which causes major problems as the son/daughter at home does not know what brothers and sisters will receive and often think they are developing the business only to have to buy it from their siblings.
Diversification Farmer of the Year, Tractor Ted, Radstock, Somerset
Our weekly sales figures (compared to budget) are circulated to the whole team on a Friday afternoon. This is a highly motivational tool which keeps the whole Tractor Ted working team involved and up to speed on what is going on with the business.
Initially I was unsure whether I wanted to share this type of information with everyone. However, six months on I am sure it was the right decision.
Comments like “If I get this order out today will it go into this week’s figures?” and the general buzz from the team when we hit a new record have cemented my determination to continue with the weekly update.
My accountant suggests that a common gripe he hears from farm workers is that they spend two years rearing a beef steer, but never know what it weighed, how it graded or what price it achieved!
Weekly sales results would not appear relevant to many farm enterprises, but weekly milk production against target could work. And it would probably suit some of the more intensive enterprises too.
Young Farmer of the Year, Trefnant Hall Farm, Welshpool, Powys
Examine your system by enterprise to see what each is really contributing. Also, consider an alternative focus on inputs to see if you can improve efficiency.
With the switch from a traditional single payment system to a flat rate system in Wales, the farm is due to lose 35% of its single farm payment over the next five years.
It is vital we focus on increasing output on the farm to make up the difference. So we have started to use a consultant to bring new ideas into the business and on the back of this we have been focusing on grass and forage feed budgets to increase stocking rate per hectare.
We have also gone one step further, analysing feed intake per enterprise with the aim of increasing the most efficient and profitable one. Because all the livestock are outwintered on a mixture of kale, swedes and silage and rotationally grazed on grass through the remainder of the year, we don’t import any other feed as this doubles our cost base. The priority is reducing winter costs with silage costing 12p/kg of dry matter compared with 6p/kg of dry matter for grass.
Therefore we have been aiming to extend the grazing in the autumn and getting stock out earlier in the spring to reduce cost. In terms of feed budgets, we keep 320 dairy heifers and these have been averaging 6.35kg of dry matter eaten a day. The 1,100 sheep we keep average 2.5 kg/dry matter a day when including lambs as well. So this means we are keeping 2.5 sheep per heifer. A heifer has a gross margin of £260/head, while a sheep is around £50. So 2.5 sheep x 50 = £125. So heifers are twice as profitable.
Robert Craig and Steve Brandon
Dairy Farmers of the Year, Dolphenby Farm, Penrith, Cumbria
Robert: Accurate financial budgeting and monthly cash flow analysis.
It’s more than 25 years since I first started doing this religiously. Knowing the financial position of the business drives really good and timely decision-making. It instils confidence in finance providers and is an essential part of risk management while running or growing a successful business. I strongly believe this has always been essential, today more than ever.
Steve: Communication, communication, communication! With two dairy farms 150 miles apart and business partner Robert Craig a further 15 miles away, we need to be able to keep in touch with our Dolphenby joint venture when we are not on site.
Mark Housby, our dairy herd manager, uses an internet-based programme for all the grass measurements taken each week through the grazing season. This allows us to discuss grazing plans over the phone if I’m not on site and he now emails a weekly report which includes the last seven days’ milk production, stock numbers, grass situation and staffing information, adding any questions he would like answered.
This is followed by a monthly planning meeting on farm between myself, Robert and Mark.
Local Food Farmer of the Year, Hartley Farm, Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire
A good business isn’t one that doesn’t encounter problems, it’s one that overcomes them in the best possible way. The most powerful change has been instilling that belief across our whole team, giving them confidence to overcome issues themselves, it’s seen an amazing change in how we approach things.
Beef Farmer of the Year, Crebilly Farm, Ballymena, Co Antrim
Sharing and co-operation. In the last couple of years we’ve started a group of like-minded beef and to a lesser degree, sheep farmers, who have all realised that individually we are nobody, but that together we are a lot more than the sum of our parts.
So now we buy our feed, sell our breeding females and some fat cattle together, through a group structure, and share best-practice information on genetics, nutrition and herd and flock health and performance targets. It’s all voluntary and informal but has been of considerable benefit to us all.
One example of a benefit of co-operation is in the marketing of female stock. With our new genetics, a yearling commercial heifer previously being sold as a store now returns members a £200 premium by selling through the group bulling heifer sales, without any extra cost. Similarly, ewe lambs return £25 more than fat price.
This is down to fact that the cattle and sheep breeds we communally use, Stabilisers and Romneys (both of which we imported from New Zealand), are specialist, outdoor-birthing, yet high-output maternal breeds and we’ve built up a substantial base of repeat customers.
Pig Farmer of the Year, Park Farm, Earsham, Bungay, Norfolk
If you do not measure it, you cannot record it.
If you do not record and analyse it, how do you know where you are?
If you do not know where you are, how will you know where you are going to?
If you do not know where you are going to how, will you know when you have arrived?
This is the mechanism that I have used to drive the productivity of the pig side of my business forward and I am now applying this principle to the arable side as well.
I am very keen on using good- quality, accurate evidence, both scientific and performance data, to make my management decisions, both in production and performance.
David and Helen Brass
Poultry Farmer of the Year, The Lakes Free Range Egg Co, Cumbria
Attention to detail, always the detail.
Sustainable Farmer of the Year, Wyke Farms, Bruton, Somerset
Use your environmental and sustainable responsibilities as another tool for lowering cost and driving efficiency, as they almost always go hand in hand.
Improving your environmental approach to business will almost always lead to improved efficiency and lower costs.
Our investment in AD for biogas is saving us £50,000-60,000/year in inorganic nitrogen costs and will make us self-sufficient in gas, while we save £30,000/month by generating our own solar electricity. A new water re-usage plant will save up to 850,000m litres/day which, combined with the AD plant and other technologies, enables the business to cut total energy and water bills by £2m/year.
Farm Employer of the Year, L E Barnes & Sons, Bedfordshire
Continually engage with staff – ensuring open dialogue improves motivation, leading to better business decisions and commitment to customers.