Opinion: Harness the ‘overview effect’ in farming

Looking down on the Earth from several kilometres above the atmosphere has a notable impact on astronauts.

The “overview effect”, as it has been termed, is an epiphany that provides an almost instant global consciousness and overwhelming awareness of the world as one interconnected entity.

It has inspired many astronauts, on returning to Earth, to improve the world for the better.

See also: Opinion – Welsh farm policy riddled with contradictions

About the author

Graeme Wilson
Graeme Wilson and his wife Polly Davies run Slade Farm Organics in the Vale of Glamorgan. It’s a 260ha third-generation family farm with arable, livestock and horticultural enterprises.
Read more articles by Graeme Wilson

I am no astronaut, but I do find an all-encompassing consciousness an appealing concept.

To see everything as one and appreciate it as such in any single instant would remove many of the perceived barriers, confrontations and misalignments that abound in the day-to-day.

However, I also live in the hurly burly, so the challenge is to occasionally rise above it and find perspective.

Family farming is a mix of full and overfull days, with often unwelcome but necessary tangents (cows on the road, sheep in the neighbour’s field, gutters collapsing on the calving shed).

This month, we will attempt to step above it and do some strategic thinking, refocusing strategies and tactics.

Polly is attending the Oxford Farming Conference to get up to speed with the latest thinking, and I’m having a stretch of evenings tinkering and reporting on the accounts that will give us something approaching a set of enterprise management accounts for 2023.

Clearly the mood music around the industry is challenging. The world of subsidies and support payments is in the final throes of a paradigm shift that will end up with lots of hand-wringing and administrative tasks, but ultimately less money all round.

The profitability of most sectors is at best looking modest, and at worst very tough. Costs keep going up, so everything is looking more and more marginal.

Innovation and creativity may need to come into play to find a way through. We know there is hard work in finding the right balance – where to stick, and where to twist.

What is important is appreciating the sphere of influence.

We have a unique set of capabilities on this farm, and it is focusing on the elements that contribute to those unique capabilities that can make the difference. It is here that we need creativity and innovation.

Exploiting and positioning those capabilities will shape the future. This is our immediate sphere of influence, and not the macroeconomics or the policy discourse.

We will climb aboard the proverbial rocket on 14 and 15 January, hoping to gain enough height to find our overview effect.

We’re being joined by a third party, Polly’s sister, to provide challenge to the way we see the farm.

Phoebe is a performance artist and art funding consultant with a focus on making artists viable. She’ll bring a completely different set of experiences.

Her brief is to question some of the assumptions in our thinking and help us to look at issues from a different perspective.

The reality for most is that the shape of farming income will change significantly over the next five to 10 years, whether we all end up farming carbon or biodiversity, or whether we are making breakthroughs with technology in plant and animal science.

These are significant forces for change. In this context, there is no better time to get a bit of perspective.

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