Tell us what to do

9 March 2015

Drills are hitched up and sitting in the shed; farmers are getting itchy feet; evidence of impatience is clear to see in some tramlines – all pointing to farmers switching their thoughts away from the round of winter meetings and events, towards dreams of beating Kiwi, Warren Darling’s recent world record of 13.8 t/ha of winter barley – a record held in Scotland for the last 25 years!

So for me, it’s a time to reflect on these winter meetings and events – what worked; what didn’t work; what could we do better; did we deliver what levy payers need and did we do it in a manner that got the key messages home, and in a way that will make sure they are implemented at farm level?

Knowledge is success, so if we don’t get these messages across, then for the majority, the above dream will remain just that.

The meetings and events which AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds held in Scotland over the winter seemed to be relatively successful with relevant presentations and key messages focussed on the audience of that day. Feedback from the audience was positive with many saying it was the best yet – all good news on the face of it, but is it just my perception of the events or is it really what the grower thinks?

Whilst we had a good attendance at all the meetings, even combined it’s a small percentage of those that pay a levy, and therefore finance these events. How do we get more growers to realise the business benefits from prioritising some time in their busy schedule to attend these events, and glean some knowledge to help them drive their businesses forward? We need to know what you need and want, so please feedback to me any thoughts you have.

Some of the above thoughts came to me when I was reading an excellent piece in the Arable Farmer Focus section in Farmers Weekly, from Rob Warburton in Western Australia – yet another push from the other side of the world. He is also questioning how to get farmer involvement, albeit at a strategic level. One quote in particular runs true – when he was questioning politicians and government ministers about what they want from the agriculture industry, their reaction was “tell us what to do or we will do what we think needs to be done”.

Rob makes a case for the need for agriculture to articulate a clear vision for the future, starting from the ground up with individuals, commodity sectors and then as a whole industry. Without the industry in the driver’s seat, we will continue to be passengers.

In my role representing AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds interests in Scotland, I attend various stakeholder meetings on subjects such as CAP reform and Government spending on agricultural research. The above statement certainly runs true at these events and whilst bodies such as NFUS do a sterling job of looking after farmers interests, there is a large contingent of non-farming bodies influencing what happens to farmers – how much easier would it be for these farming organisations to represent us if we had an over-riding vision for the future of our industry created and supported as a collective.

Another example of where we need to do better as an industry is Open Farm Sunday. A very worthwhile initiative which gives the opportunity for the industry to showcase to our customers, the general public, what farmers do on their behalf – produce food and take on the role of custodians of the countryside. Last year only nine farms in Scotland took part – surely we can do better.

If anyone wants to host an Open Farm Sunday on 7 June this year, then let me know and I can organise some arable material. Alternatively visit www.farmsunday.org

Wishing you all a successful drilling period, and hoping to see more of you on the 7 June, as well as at our summer events.

Gavin Dick - Scotland

Gavin Dick - Scotland

AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds Manager (Scotland). Previously a business specialist with SAC, working to broaden farmers’ business management skills.

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