Better trained staff
improve your profits
Could better staff management boost profits on most arable farms? ADASs John Bailey believes the answer is Yes. Mike Stones reports
BETTER staff management and training improves work rates and lifts profits, says ADAS senior mechanisation adviser John Bailey.
"The best farmers make a good job of managing and training their staff. But some could significantly improve profits by planning labour requirements and improving staff management," he insists.
Re-examining labour requirements is a good starting point. On large, straight-forward combinable crop farms, aim for one regular full- time person for every 240-320ha (600-800 acres) of combineable crops. Be concerned if you are significantly below 182ha (450 acres) per person even on smaller farms, he warns.
Many farms are over-staffed and profits would benefit from putting resources into machinery if staff leave or retire, he adds. To support this, Mr Bailey points out that the total cost of employing one person averages £18,000 a year. That is the equivalent of the annual charge on a £70,000 machinery investment, taken over five years and an interest rate of 8%. So when a member of staff leaves the farm, think carefully about whether to employ a full-time replacement, he advises. "We have already seen the trend towards fewer farm staff working more effectively. And it is well known that a good person on a machine is at least 30% more productive than the average or slow one.
"The trick is how to make people more productive. I believe involving staff more closely in the business, better training and refocusing some agricultural college courses would help. Staff should be encouraged to develop the confidence, willingness, and sense of urgency to take reasonable management decisions on their own."
And fewer farm workers underlines the need for people who can use their initiative. "It is not just that machinery is becoming more sophisticated requiring more skill and experience to operate it effectively. Fewer farm staff mean individuals have to become proficient at operating a wider range of equipment."
Mr Bailey believes all farm workers ought to have a reasonable idea of crop management and farm profitability – the more someone understands their job and related activities, the more efficient they will become.
Encourage staff to develop a questioning frame of mind; not just to do things in the same old way, simply because they have always worked like that, he advises.
Plan work schedules to fit in with the peaks and troughs of the arable farming year. "On arable farms, machinery maintenance and repair fit in well with the quiet time of January and February.
"And if operators maintain and repair machines themselves, the chances are that they will use them more effectively," says Mr Bailey. Developing a supply of regular, good quality casual labour to help at peak work times can relieve the workload on farm staff at busy times of the year. In many cases a more enlightened attitude to contractors could help, he believes.
Do not work yourself or your staff into the ground. Too many farmers allow themselves and their staff to work too hard, risking exhaustion, stress and ill health.
Paying staff a salary rather than weekly wages can be another motivating factor. Although it could help people buy their own house and free them from a tied cottage, he acknowledges many staff like to see their overtime payments in their hands at the end of the week.
Mr Bailey believes agricultural colleges could play a larger role in helping to prepare the next generation of farm workers. "Too many agricultural colleges produce chiefs rather than indians. Many students seem to believe they ought to walk out of college straight into a management job.
"Where are the full-time courses for high quality farm workers who may, or may not, want to go into management after two or three years experience?"
Colleges aspire upwards to degree and higher qualifications but there is still a definite need for basic practical residential courses aimed at making farm staff highly qualified and valued workers. "If we are not careful, it will become increasingly difficult to find top quality farm staff able and willing to take on a high degree of responsibility."
Part of the problem lies in the low perceived status of the farm workers job, says Mr Bailey. "We need a better job description than the old fashioned term farm worker.
"Some skilled craftsmen already earn regularly up to £18,000 a year for a 60 hour plus week during the autumn. Excep-tional cases earn up to £22,000.
"Work hard at managing your staff," says Mr Bailey. "Above all, try to avoid a them and us situation. Involving people as thoroughly as possible in the business will do them good and it will certainly do your business good." *
Well motivated staff are vital to the long-term success of a business.
For the latest advice on staff management and planning your cultivations, make a date to attend our conference Cultivating New Ideas. Held in association with machinery firm Vaderstad, it will take place at the ICI Centre, East of England Showground, Peterborough, on Wed, Mar 19.
John Bailey, ADAS senior mechanisation adviser.
• More adaptable.
• More motivated.
• Able to work unsupervised.
• Capable of making their own decisions.
• Take pride in their work.
• Are eyes and ears of their employer around the farm.