A fine time to come

5 June 1998




A fine time to come

up with a good plan!

This years Farm Planner of the Year contestants had to

produce a five-year development plan for a 391ha (970-acres)

arable, beef and sheep farm in Herefordshire. With UK farming

experienced its toughest times for many years, it was a

decidedly challenging task, reports David Cousins

THE six years of the Farm Planner of the Year competition have taken place against a backdrop of extraordinary change in farming. In the first years of the contest there was a widespread belief that the MacSharry proposals would all but scupper UK farming. Then the £ collapsed and gave producers in most sectors an unexpected mini golden age.

Viewed from a 1998 perspective, that all seems a long time ago. Prices have slumped on all fronts, short-term prospects are chilly and long-term ones not much to write home about either. Meanwhile, buyers are getting bigger and more cut-throat, and individual farmers feel their bargaining power (which was never very strong anyway) ebbing away.

So what are our six finalists to make of the task of coming up with a five-year farm development plan? Do they take a pessimistic stance and go for cuts in spending and labour? Or should they bravely opt for expansion and investment in the hope that farming fortunes will swing up again?

Though all six finalists have proved their abilities by winning through to this final stage of the competition, this real-life case study will require all their powers of business sense, imagination and sheer clairvoyance. All six are either full or part-time students and most have worked on farms as either students or family workers.

The farm that is the focus of this years competition is Wilmaston Farms near Peterchurch, Hereford-shire. Owned by the trustees of Viscount Portman and run by manager Simon Quan and agent Ian Piell, it is a mixed arable and livestock unit totalling 391ha (970 acres).

The six students are given a detailed tour of the farm and a chance to quiz the farm manager. In return, they have to make recommendations on the future mix of enterprises on the farm, adding new ones where they think wise and dropping existing ones they judge to have outlived their usefulness.

But these suggestions have to involve more than wild hunches or seat-of-the-pants guesses. They must be fully argued and costed out, with the same degree of accuracy and professionalism that would be required if a loan application were being made to a bank or a tenancy application to a landlord.

Moreover the farm has to be run without overdraft facilities, so any expansion or diversification must be funded from existing income.

Full details of the winning

plan will be published in

FW in August.

Mr Quan points out that useful income is gained from renting out land for potatoes. Students must decide if this should be increased.

Strictly speaking, there is too big a grass acreage for this size of farm, says farm manager Simon Quan (left). But should the six contestants think about ploughing some of it up?

THE STUDENTS TASK

The trustees of Viscount Portman want to know whether the present enterprises are sustainable given:

&#8226 Changing cereal production patterns within the EC.

&#8226 World prices and the effect of world-wide demand and the changing green £.

The six students have to present a plan for the next five years at Wilmaston Farms, including:

&#8226 Cash-flows taking the business until at least the year 2002.

&#8226 A schedule of both working and fixed capital.

&#8226 Indications of the cash borrowing required

INSTITUTE OF AG MGMT

The Institute of Agricultural Management has organised the Farm Planner of the Year competition since it began. The institute, originally founded as the Farm Management Association 30 years ago, has three key objectives:

&#8226 To promote high standards in the business and practice of management in agriculture.

&#8226 To promote training in management understanding, skills and experience.

&#8226 To encourage the provision and attainment of professional qualifications in agricultural management.

To fulfil these aims it holds conferences, workshops and farm visits. A quarterly Farm Management journal is produced and there is a network of local branches.

Membership is open to all engaged in agriculture and rural business management. For further details contact Philip James on (0118-93514500, or fax 0118-9756467).


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