What’s a farm manager worth?

What should I be paying my farm manager? This is a question clients often ask us.

Remuneration at this level is becoming an increasingly complex area for farm businesses, with a wide range of salaries and benefits reflecting a profession that is growing increasingly diverse.

Most farm consultants and land agents will have a reasonable idea about who’s earning what within their client base, and the jobs that they’re doing. But few are able to take a national view, taking in the variety of roles, circumstances, farms and cropping.

Every two years, the Institute of Agricultural Management – the body that represents the farm management profession in Great Britain – conducts a survey of farm managers to gain a definitive picture of how they are rewarded. It’s a benchmark like no other in the industry and the only truly empirical data available to answer the question that began this article.

Part of the problem is in the range of job titles, says Tim Brigstocke, the IAgrM chairman. “Some continue to be called farm managers when others, in very similar roles, are defined as farms directors. And the increase in the number of those identified as directors is interesting – it clearly implies a more senior role.”

So there’s a clear benefit to farm businesses in understanding the nature of the role they are seeking to fill, before deciding on an appropriate employment package.

The average farm manager in the 2011-12 survey earned £50,037, before other benefits such as the occupation of a house or provision of a vehicle. Nearly 70% lived in a rent- and rates-free house and most had a car available for private use.

Most of those surveyed placed the value of these additional, non-cash benefits, at £15,000-£20,000, placing the average farm manager’s total employment package nearer to £70,000 a year.

“It’s interesting that the remuneration for farm managers is moving closer to comparable jobs in other industries, particularly when you take into account the challenging, complex nature of these farm businesses and operations, and the working hours and conditions,” says Mr Brigstocke.

Holidays – always a difficult thing for farm managers to achieve – varied considerably, with most entitled to 21-25 days excluding public holidays. However, there was noticeable migration in numbers from those with 21-25 days to 26-30 days.

“We often hear from within the industry that the average age of farmers is 57, and there’s plenty of evidence to show that isn’t true – but most of the managers in our survey fall into the 50 to 59 age bracket,” says Mr Brigstocke. “So the industry is slowly ossifying and it’s clear that the profession needs to continue to attract younger people and ensure they are given the responsibility to farm.”

The level of responsibility borne by farm managers is growing. Almost a third of managers in the survey had control of working capital worth in excess of £4m. This had increased dramatically in the past few years.

Nearly three-quarters of managers had membership of a pension scheme included in their employment package and most of these were contributory schemes.

Looking at the results, retirement seems as elusive a prospect for managers as for other farmers, with more than half answering “don’t know” to the question “at what age will you retire?”.

“This is a much under-utilised piece of research that is available to industry,” says Mr Brigstocke.

“These results seem to augur pretty well for the profession. The greater profitability seen in farming in the past few years is evident, and farm managers’ rewards are moving more in line with the rest of industry.

“Ultimately, the combination of executive management, hands-on style and the breadth of skills required of farm managers make them a pretty unique breed.”

Ian Ashbridge is an agribusiness consultant at Bidwells and a former business editor of Farmers Weekly.

  • Copies of the IAgrM study Farm Managers in 2012: Their Jobs and Their Pay are available from the IAgrM. Email richard@iagrm.com or call 01275 843 825.

Farm Managers in 2012: Jobs and pay 

What is it?

The Institute of Agricultural Management’s survey: Farm Managers in 2012 – Their Jobs and Their Pay. Published every two years since 1969.

How many take part?

Sample sizes are consistently around 100, with many respondents taking part year after year.

So what do most farm managers earn?

The average farm manager’s salary in the 2011-12 survey was £50,037, before non-cash benefits like accommodation and vehicles were taken into account.

How has that changed?

That’s £5,402 up on the last survey (which collected data in 2009) or an increase of 12.8%. The above-inflation increase suggests employers know they need to recruit and retain talent and are taking steps to achieve this.

What age are they?

Most farm managers in the survey were between 40 and 59 years of age. One in four was younger than 40.

What are they farming?

More than a third of managers surveyed were responsible for more than 3,000 acres. When the survey began in 1969, this was just 7%. This year saw a significant increase in managers farming more than 4,000 acres.

Who says what “farm manager” actually means?

Respondents to this survey are described as farm managers, as opposed to foremen or team leaders. They are the principal decision-makers within the business.

This year’s survey revealed an increase in the number of managers whose positions were described as “farms director”, suggesting a shift towards executive direction.

Do these people get their hands dirty?

Yes. The role continues to be hands-on, which makes this level of management unusual when compared to similar roles in other industries.

Most spend more than 10% of their time doing manual work. The IAgrM interprets this as relief sprayer or combine driving, for example.

How many people work for them?

Two-thirds of respondents had up to six members of staff reporting to them

Conference to identify practical ideas 

  The National Farm Management Conference 2012 “New Research, New Technologies – giving farmers the tools to feed the future” will take place on Wednesday 21 November 2012 at the Royal Society, Carlton House Terrace, London SW1Y 5AG.

The event is organised by the Institute of Agricultural Management in association with the British Institute of Agricultural Consultants.

Two years on from the influential Foresight Report into the future of food and farming, this conference seeks to identify the practical ideas that science and technology will need to deliver to agriculture – to help feed a growing world population.

Speakers include:

  • Professor Charles Godfray: “The Foresight Report two years on – rising to the challenge of sustainable intensification”
  • Professor Chris Pollock: “Research priorities for UK agriculture to 2030”
  • Dr Mike Bushell: “Advances in crop protection technology – refilling an empty toolbox”

Evening reception hosted by the Rt Hon Jim Paice MP.

For tickets, contact the Institute of Agricultural Management on 01275 843 825 or email richard@iagrm.com



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