at hand for paperwork
Paper, paper, paper –
theres no end to it. But the
Institute of Agricultural
Administrators will help
unqualified people cope as
Ann Rogers discovered
when she met farm
secretary Sue Densley
PAPERWORK is the one aspect of agriculture that flourishes as records, returns and regulations pile yet more work and worry onto the farm family. But help is at hand.
The Institute of Agricultural Secretaries and Administrators can take the strain out of dealing with it – even if you have no wish to engage one of its highly trained professionals. The institute now reaches out to all the non-professional, unqualified people who have to tackle farm secretarial and accountancy chores. They can become affiliated to IAgSA and benefit from the support that membership brings, explains IAgSA council member Sue Densley, who has been running her own mobile farm secretarial service in the Thirsk area for more than 10 years.
* Scattered group
Sue also heads the North Yorks branch of the IAgSA, a scattered group of people which meets 10 or more times a year. Meetings give them the opportunity to talk shop with others doing the same work and to study particular facets of the job. For example, an official from the Beef Cattle Movement Service came to one of their recent meetings – a little nervously at the thought of meeting farming people face to face – to explain how the new passport system worked.
"Farmers wives receiving all these new forms would just think ugh!" says Hannah Raines, sympathetically. She may well have felt the same in a working situation, but given the opportunity to study them without the fear of what might happen should she get it wrong, gave her confidence as well as knowledge.
Hannah, who graduated from Newcastle University with an honours degree in farm management in July, joined the institute after seeing its stand at the Royal Show. When Farmlife met her she was still seeking a job in agricultural consultancy or similar, but meanwhile was helping her father who runs a 688ha (1700 acres) mixed farm, and working for a BASIS spray qualification at Askham Bryan College. Belonging to the institute "keeps my knowledge topped up." she says.
Only about 30 students will qualify as farm secretaries this year, says Sue. "When they leave college they know everything they want to know and dont feel the need to join the IAgSA. A few years later they begin to feel out of touch with regulations and tend to come back to the institute."
Besides branch meetings and workshop sessions on particular aspects of their work, members are kept in touch with developments and current issues through their monthly bulletin. The new cattle passports, the 1999 sheep annual premium scheme and the agricultural wages order were among the topics featured in the October issue, They also receive a quarterly journal. Computers and information technology were featured in the summer 98 issue. IT is so important these days that a member of council has been given responsibility for IT development. A software library is already available to members. This is maintained at the institutes office at the National Agricultural Centre, Warks. Members can loan programs from the library for a couple to weeks to discover which suits their purposes best.
"When everybody is on e-mail things will be a lot easier," says Sues husband Jim, who is himself affiliated to IAgSA. Jim gained his national diploma in agriculture at Bishop Burton College, which is where Sue did her farm secretarial course and gained her national diploma in business and finance. He used to work with pigs but as pig jobs decreased he turned to helping Sue. Now he does accounts and admin work full time, looking after his own clients as well as Sues.
A small rural business administrator is how Sue describes herself these days. Secretary can be a misleading word, she says: "I have not done shorthand since I left college. Farmers dont dictate. They just say write to so and so and say – whatever."
Her clients include a race horse trainer and a horse transporter as well as farmers and she visits two or three of them each day.
* Grading structure
IAgSA has a grading structure and a continuous professional development scheme. After at least three years, during which time they have undertaken qualifying employment and attended workshops and study courses, an affiliate can graduate to licentiate status and progress to intermediate and associate if they they wish to forge a new career.
But many are not looking for such a move. Sandie Barnes is not, for a start. Sandie belongs to the Norfolk IAgSA branch and already has a career as a nurse, but she took on the task of doing her husbands books when the family farm was split and he went into business on his own account. She gained her basic knowledge on a farm accounts course at Easton College and has been topping it up as a IAgSA affiliate ever since.
She has particularly appreciated the workshop sessions on such matters as National Insurance, VAT, and Agenda 2000, while the farm accounts update has enabled her to cover more ground and help keep down the farms accountancy bills.
Meeting fellow members has also proved valuable to her, especially on the occasion when she came to what she calls "a blip" in her accounts. Then she was able to ring someone who does that sort of work all the time and was given advice which solved her problem.
Doing the accounts and paperwork has given her a better insight into the business, she says, and made her a more effective sounding-board when her husband wants to air ideas and plans.
• Inquiries: Institute of Agricultural Secretaries and Administrators, National Agricultural Centre, Stoneleigh, Kenilworth, Warks CV8 2LZ (01203-696592) fax (01203-417937) Website: WWW.IAgSA.co.uk
Those running small businesses in the Yorks Dales and Moors can have a recording system tailored for their business through the farm business support project run by the NFU, ADAS, LANTRA and Askham Bryan College. The project is supported by the European Agricultural Guarantee and Guidance Fund, MAFF and the North Yorks County Council and the only charge to the client is £25 for the set of books and folders provided. An IAgSA registered farm secretary will spend a day with you setting up the system and showing you how to operate it. A follow up visit will be made later to sort out any difficulties. This should allow you to have increased financial control of your business and reduce accountant fees. Inquiries to project manager Peter Chaundy (01904-700898).
Jim Densley is affiliated to the Institute of Agricultural Secretaries and Administrators and his wife Sue (seated) is a council member. Hannah Raines was recruited at the Royal Show. All belong to the North Yorks group.