Change your mind, change your business

As with most sectors in agriculture, change is in the air for the arable industry. With changing technologies, farmer demographics, market pressures, consumer expectations and of course Brexit (sorry to mention it so soon); there is a requirement for change at every corner of farming life. For an industry under scrutiny to produce the highest possible quality produce in an environmentally and economically sustainable way, the need for embracing on-farm change has never been greater.

I don’t like the implication that the impending ‘shake up’ in agriculture is taking place because until now farmers have been doing a bad job. Quite the contrary – farmers are constantly driving their ever-changing industry forward through strong use of innovation, adaptation and determination. They have been, and continue to, do a cracking job.

We could analyse the figures and debate the future of UK Farming plc until the cows come home. But at the end of the day, how much does anyone really know what will happen? Could this time be spent more efficiently by analysing yourself and your business so to be ready for all possible eventualities, rather than stewing on what might have been?

Over the past winter in the West & Wales region we have hosted various meetings covering the themes of succession, communication and leadership, to name a few. On reflection I have been pleasantly surprised how the farmers attending approached tackling these somewhat emotive and personal topics.

I have concluded the season feeling that it is just as important for farmers to have resilience in their own personal mind-set as much as it is to have resilience in their businesses physical or economic performance.

Don’t get me wrong, I fully believe that reliable and robust technical knowledge provides farmers with the steering wheel to make well informed decisions. I would be in the wrong career if I didn’t. You wouldn’t set off on a journey without knowing what direction you are heading. It is personal mind-set though that I believe is the engine which drives the successful implementation of changes on farm.

Distracted. Busy. Ignorant. Complacent. Challenging. Fear. Just some of the reasons why one might not make a change. We’ve all been there; motivating change is hard, be it for just yourself or for your employees or relatives

When attending Monitor Farm meetings I try my upmost to also use the messages being delivered for my own personal development. I would be missing a valuable opportunity if I didn’t. I’ll focus briefly on two messages I have taken home from recent meetings.

Life goals. Something which Heather Wildman asked us while recently delivering a Succession workshop was, what would you like to have achieved in 5 years’ time? 10 years’ time? They sound like questions that would be asked in a job interview. It is very easy to fall into the trap of allowing these goals to be along the lines of…. ‘Make more money’… ‘Expand the business’… “Improve productivity”. These are all very admirable goals to have and I am sure that we all share them, but ask yourself if they are specific enough? In my opinion a goal must have a sufficient level of detail that allows measurement of whether it has been achieved or not. Otherwise surely its achievement is a complete unknown. Heather implored us to set time frames for your goals, identify potential barriers to reaching them and establish whether you have the skills required to accomplish. The journey of getting there is as important as achieving the goal itself.

Communication.  It is almost as important to share your thoughts with all involved with your business; be it with your partner, employees or agronomist. If these haven’t been communicated then it can’t be guaranteed that you are all working (roughly speaking) in the same direction. At the February Hereford Monitor Farm meeting John White pushed us to question our own ability to communicate. Take a step back and really look into how you communicate with those around you. Does the intended message always leave point A and reach its destination at point B fully intact? Or do you spend your life frustrated that people don’t understand what you have told them? We all have days feeling like this. In these situations, instead of blaming those around you for not understanding correctly, I think that it is imperative to take a moment to investigate the cause. How could you have communicated more effectively to convey that message? It may all sound very basic and a bit fluffy around the edges, but just try it.

As an employee I am in the very lucky position to know and clearly understand what is expected of me in my work. This makes a big difference in my working life. I cannot stress more to ensure that all those involved in your own businesses feel the same way. Think of sport. Although I’m reluctant to reflect on rugby performance after the past couple of months, would you expect a rugby team to step on the pitch without all having the common objective of winning? No? So why should your business be any different?

In terms of managing change for yourself and those around you, you can lead that horse to water, but you certainly can’t make it drink. Carrots and sticks work sometimes, but incentives and penalties are ineffective motivators and don’t work in the long term. We all need to dig deeper than that. Ask why wouldn’t that horse drink in the first place? We need to understand our own and others motivation and mind-set.

Change is tough, and it doesn’t happen overnight. There is no one-size-fits-all approach because motivation and mind-set are unique to the individual. Start by asking questions, go beyond knowledge and awareness, listen, discuss and explore the factors that influence yourself or each person around and work together to motivate on-farm change.

And finally, if you want to challenge and develop yourself among peers, come along to your local Monitor Farm meeting. Each group aims to improve its performance by setting goals, recording progress, benchmarking and sharing information and ideas. To get the most from your levy you need to get involved.

Richard

Richard

Richard Meredith grew up on a family farm in Herefordshire, and is based in Ledbury. He joined AHDB first as a Regional Benchmarking Officer, providing benchmarking support to AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds, Eblex and DairyCo levy payers. Prior to that, Richard worked for five years with a machinery ring co-ordinating contracting and hire services in the agricultural and related sectors. As AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds Regional Manager, Richard is passionate about helping to strengthen UK farm businesses, making them more resilient in the long term.

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