Opinion: The changing ways of practical farm management

I grew up doing a lot of manual work and so it astounds me how much of my job I am now able to do away from the farm.

I admit this is largely because a lot of the day-to-day farm management of our operation has passed on to my cousin, Chris; he does it much better than I ever used to.

It is also partly due to advances in technology – I can access our production records, track our vehicles and watch the cameras around the farm from my phone.

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My role in the business mostly involves having ideas, scrutinising costs, doing sums and communicating with suppliers or customers. In theory, I can do that from anywhere.

We have a very capable team and, more and more, I try to let them use their time in the way that they think is most appropriate.

When you own a business, it is tempting to micromanage details or try to influence every decision, but I fight that impulse now.

We try to empower everyone to make decisions by showing trust, investing in training, sharing information and being supportive when the fan gets stuff on it.

Profit comes from managing detail, but my role now is to see the bigger picture, drive expansion and keep the business secure for the future.

Guilty relief

I’m not trying to suggest I’ve got all the answers or I’m a brilliant boss – everyone knows all bosses are idiots.

No, I’m saying this to justify to myself taking another trip to Africa last week. I travel about a lot, but I always feel guilty about it.

I spent a few days in western Kenya with Farm Africa, looking at fish farming and an Aldi-sponsored project to get young farmers from poor areas growing beans for the UK market. Thought-provoking stuff, but we will have to talk about that another day.

When I’m away, Chris and I message one another a lot with exchanges like this:

“Hey Chris, How are things?”

“We’ve had a stolen plough.”

“Oh, that’s very Christmassy.”

“No, not stollen. Stolen.”

“Oh, that’s not Christmassy. That’s annoying.

And so I was left feeling more guilty than ever because, while I was away, some utter toerag made off with our six-furrow Lemken.

When I got back, I offered £2,500 in the local paper to anyone who could help us to track the culprits and I extend the same offer to readers of this magazine.

Questions missed

The most disappointing thing to me about farm thefts is that they are ultimately the fault of someone in the farming industry.

The average man or woman in the street has no use for a reversible plough. Stolen farm equipment is always destined for a farmer, or a dealer, who is happy to take a bargain in exchange for not asking the right questions.

In these situations we see the best and the worst of the farming community. James Lacey and Simon Dobney are the heroes of this particular tale.

They lent us a plough to do the last few fields and we finished the job earlier than usual.

It would be a Christmas miracle if justice prevailed. But if you find something large and blue with slatted mouldboards in your festive stocking, please get in touch and claim your reward.

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