Change is coming

It’s now four months since that fateful day in June, and the outcome seems to have initiated the beginnings of something good, the beginnings of a change in our industry. Between interviewing potential new Monitor Farmers and existing Monitor Farm meetings, I’ve had almost daily contact with farmers over the last few weeks. That good thing I mentioned is a word now in regular use by farmers, but which used to be confined to the dreamier, wishful thinking few – COLLABORATION.

To be serious, it is surprising how often it has come up in conversation as something that we all have to consider, and in relation to a wide range of topics from machinery sharing, to marketing, to the breeding / finishing meat supply chain.

For me this movement in attitude is hugely gratifying as I think collaboration is one of the “simplest” tools available in reducing cost of production and improving efficient use of resources – if only we could break down the mind set and independence of farmers without losing the considerable benefits that these traits also contribute.

It’s also encouraging to hear farmers openly accept the need for collaboration as one of the main objectives of the new Monitor Farm programme is to foster and encourage collaboration between the nine new farms which will cover the country. The strength of collaboration is that as a model, it can be made to fit any set of circumstances. Whether it be a large marketing group or simply two farmers sharing a combine or a group of farmers working together with an in-house contracting arm.

I think the real benefits will be where a little more imagination is used and, for example, a farmer in Lochaber with ewes and suckler cows, and not much else other than his livestock husbandry skills, will collaborate with a farmer in the Lothians. He or she just happens to have straw, grain and buildings, as well as wanting to introduce short term leys, but has no livestock or the skills to look after them. She’s also less than an hour from the abattoir. The potential benefits are clear.

The new Monitor Farm programme is a joint venture between Quality Meat Scotland and AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds and can therefore take a whole farm approach, rather than be sector driven – and includes a Lochaber and a Lothians farm!

At the current time, I have no idea what the operating environment will be like for farm businesses over the next five to 10 years – but I am sure it will be different from what it is today, and the one constant going forward will be change. For me that’s the exciting part – with change there will always be opportunities for those that are prepared and have put plans in place to capitalise on these opportunities when they appear.

That’s another of the objectives of the new Monitor Farm programme – to help prepare farm businesses and individual farmers for that change process which is coming.

As harvest and autumn drilling comes to an end, most arable farmers will be evaluating the past season, assessing lessons learned and planning next year’s campaign. As you carry out this process over the next few weeks and months, take some extra time to think about what might be changing around you, and how resilient your business will be in that new environment.

“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, not the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” Charles Darwin

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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