Benchmark, benchmark and benchmark
An analysis of Brexit by AHDB’s Sarah Baker at our January Monitor Farm meeting here in Brigg quickly revealed that to have a chance to survive or even thrive with a post-Brexit Britain, size is much less important than productivity. But how do you measure productivity and what is it? There followed a short discussion on whether we should try to produce more from less area or in fact leave certain areas that are un-productive to environmental measures to maximise the returns on the remaining patches. In fact one of our attendees is doing just that, having released a distance block of land that was riddled with black-grass and grassed half of it down and let the better bit out, he has been able to release labour, travel much less to his remaining land and has already seen the bottom line increase!
Moving on, it was shown (from AHDBs own figures) that to cope with the uncertainty that Brexit will eventually bring, we as farmers need to be in the top 25%. But how do you know where you are on the scale? Obviously not everyone can be at the top! Benchmarking is one way of doing just that, giving you a chance to find out where you are on that scale and what others are doing that works for them or maybe even more importantly what doesn’t! Some will want to bury their head in the sand and say everything will be ok, but benchmarking may give you that edge. A discussion followed on the fact that isn’t it just more productive to sell a bigger heap better. However with trade deals unclear at the moment and probably set to be for a while let us look to what the market wants and provide for that as it will always sell. Adding value is one way, but not necessarily niche products, as by their nature they are just that, niche, and at what point if we all jump on that idea do we flood that market.
We then broke out into groups to discuss consequences of Brexit on our own patch (not everyone at the meeting was a famer, so this brought out some interesting ideas).
We also added in the idea of succession and are we as an industry talking about it? The answer to this last point is yes, and maybe preaching to the converted here or maybe the unintended consequence of Brexit is that our group have by and large sat down and either formally or informally discussed succession. Adding in here the less immediately obvious point that the person doesn’t have to be the first born son anymore and do we have to expect our next generation to farm at all? It shouldn’t be an automatic guarantee that they will want to, and it raised the point about labour, and if the family are attracted to better paid, comfier jobs with less hours where does that labour come from now? Contract farming agreements and tenancies appear to be a race to the bottom nowadays, so to farm the land for the future where is the labour to come from? No answer was immediately forthcoming, as modern vacancies either attract those who are underqualified to do the job in hand, or too qualified to want to spend long hours in the tractor. Where is the middle ground? Personally we use apprentices and are currently on our fourth!
Perhaps machinery sharing, small scale co-operatives or even joint ventures are the answer? Next months’ meeting will look at this further.
Finally don’t be afraid of benchmarking and the figures it throws out your real competitors are not your immediate neighbours but those fellow farmers in Russia or Ukraine for example.