Careers: How time away from farm can improve performance

For those lucky enough to grow up on a farm, it is tempting to go to college or university and then head back home to start work.

But people who first choose to work for another farm for a period, or away from farming completely, say it can offer real benefits when you do return.

Ian Pigott, a Hertfordshire arable farmer and Farmers Weekly columnist, chose to work in London for eight years after completing his agricultural business management degree at Wye College.

See also: Read more information on careers in the agricultural and farming industry

At the time, he made the choice because he saw that agriculture was facing a prolonged period of low prices and it didn’t make economic sense to add another wage bill to the business.

Gain discipline and knowledge

However, he describes the skills and knowledge he picked up while commodity trading as invaluable, helping him to understand the discipline of working for someone else and the importance of measuring results through key performance indicators (KPIs). These are lessons he used on his return to the family farm.

“I would highly recommend working outside of the industry for a while. It is possible to get very indoctrinated in our ways, but it makes you step back and challenge what you do and why. You may decide you don’t need to change anything, but you’ve thought about it.”

Better understanding of trade

Mr Pigott says his time trading tropical oils was also helpful in that it gave him a real understanding of futures markets, the global nature of commodities and the influence of currency movements.

“My attitude to trading now is that I need to look beyond the UK. I hear people saying there’s a big crop in the UK, so prices are going to be down, but I know you have to look globally.”

Andrew Meredith, who farms beef and sheep with his parents in mid-Wales, is another fan of time spent working away. He maintains the placement year he completed as part of his degree at Aberystwyth University transformed his attitude to work.

Develop life skills

Andrew says he deliberately chose to join a business that was very different to the farm he had grown up on.

This meant he learned many practical skills, although it is the life skills he picked up that he most appreciates. “I wouldn’t have appreciated what my parents have done for me here, if I hadn’t gone away.

“I think the big thing is it forces you to grow up. When you are that age and your parents tell you to do something, because you want to assert yourself it can lead to conflict. But when someone is paying you, you get on with it. It makes you see things from an employer’s point of view.”

Challenge your own systems

Time in another business also made him question his own approach in a good way. “The farm I worked on was quite progressive and had a real eye on costings. When you are at home there’s a risk you always do things in a certain way and don’t question it. It inspires you to question your own systems more than you otherwise would.”