Opinion: Are you the boss of your own farm business?

A question that’s worth asking yourself if you run a farm is: “Who’s the boss – me or all the circumstances around me to which I am reacting?”

It can sometimes feel as if it’s the latter, especially given how many unknowns there are at present.

Farming is facing a pandemic of uncertainty – not least surrounding government policy – which can make decision-making feel almost impossible.

See also: Succession planning expert Q&A: What farmers should know

Faced with such a situation, sometimes the right answer is to do nothing. Indeed, an expression I’ve often used in my consultancy career is “If in doubt, do nowt”.

About the author

Matthew Berryman is a farm, land and viticulture consultant for East Sussex-based CLM. Here he argues that farmers need to be more proactive in setting their own agendas – despite the current uncertainties.

But for many farmers this isn’t the best approach at the moment, because there is something you can and should do.

You can decide what you want your business to be – and that, in turn, will help you make more informed decisions, rather than reacting to circumstances as they arise.

You should be asking: Where do I want to be in 10 years? What are my long-term objectives? Do I actually want to farm? What do I want to farm? What (if anything) would I like to do in tandem with my farming business? How hard do I want to work? Are my sons or daughters going to come into the business? How much debt am I comfortable with?

Identify what is important to you – and, equally important, what isn’t. Be honest about which enterprises lose money – and which you don’t enjoy.

Are you only doing something because Dad always did it? Or is it part of the future of the business for you and your successors?

The right decision may be to carry on doing what you’re currently doing, but you will only know that – and be able to have confidence in that decision – if you review your whole business critically.

In many ways, farming is driven by government policy, events and the weather, so it’s easy to get into a situation where you’re constantly firefighting.

A lot of farmers simply don’t have the headspace to think and this can be particularly so with enterprises such as dairying, which can involve 16-hour days, 365 days a year.

If you’re in that situation, an important step is to recognise you’re in that situation.

It might be that you would benefit from someone outside the business to ask the questions you may find difficult to ask (or perhaps don’t even realise you have to ask).

This might not necessarily be a consultant – it could be an accountant, lawyer, agronomist, contact, colleague or friend, just as long as you can trust them to give you an independent, objective opinion and to constructively challenge you.

If you don’t review where you are going, however, you’ll be left on an indecisive path and this will just compound the worry.

My advice to clients is to not waste time and money half-heartedly exploring options that aren’t going to work anyway. Instead, they should properly consider the genuine, realistic opportunities.

There will be some decisions you can make right now to protect your business and the future of your family.

There are also some decisions you can make now that will put you in the best position to make sound decisions in the future, when more information is available and this pandemic of uncertainty passes.

See more