It’s not all doom and gloom

21 February 2014

I have decided that the Black Isle must have something against AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds– we’ve had two Monitor Farm meetings recently at Ballicherry, and both have been held amid the worst weather of the winter. This time it was snow closing the A9, preventing one of our key speakers from attending. However, as much as the weather was poor, the people were fantastic – we had more than 50 at the Malting Barley Brunch in the morning, augmented by a further 30 for the Monitor Farm meeting.

As with the previous meeting at Ballicherry there was a great buzz in the room, and there was a lot of really interesting discussion. For me, it was the two-way nature of the conversation that was the most satisfying – farmers were challenging not only themselves, but also the trade and the support organisations, AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds and SAC.

Highland -20140213-MF4 Meeting

Monitor Farm meeting at Ballicherry on 13 February.

The numbers and the weather played havoc with the organisation of the day and Jenny & Derek from SAC did well to keep things on track. Again it was gratifying to see the Management Team getting so involved at this stage – they had organised between themselves to bring along their own different types of grain drill, armed with their own running costs, to compare, for example, power harrow versus cultivator combinations. Unfortunately the weather stopped them going in to the field (two days earlier they would have!). The exercise sent out a powerful message – no sales pitch, just the operator’s views and costs based on the same parameters as everyone else in the group. In the end there were no hard and fast conclusions – just that the system you choose has to work for you, and knowing your costs is the key to managing that system effectively.

Manufacturers were represented, but their role was to showcase the future – variable rate sowing and spreading; auto shut-off; headland management etc.  The take-home message was that the opportunities for increasing efficiency through precision farming are enormous, and we need to co-operate and share with each other to capitalise on this via shared base stations etc, as well as knowledge of what works where.

The previous day I facilitated a session at a Planning for Profit workshop in Inverness, organised by SAOS and SAC. This was again an excellent day, with a good combination of speakers and interactive sessions. The objective of the day was to encourage farmers to think strategically about their business, with questions like – why are we doing this? Is there a better way to do it? Should we be doing it at all?

As with the monitor farm concept, the organisers encouraged other farmers to share what they do with the audience. These farmers were very upbeat about their businesses, and were constantly looking at ways to improve their profitability. The bulk of the audience left the day greatly motivated to go home and take a fresh look at their own business.

Perhaps there is too much doom and gloom at the moment – CAP reform, falling prices etc. -but there are opportunities out there by taking a good hard look at your business and asking yourself the questions above. In most cases just a bit of fine tuning is required – perhaps getting a handle on your costs – how much does it cost me to produce a tonne of barley or a kilo of beef and how does that compare with the market price?

I’ll leave you with those thoughts and questions until next time.

Gavin Dick - Scotland

Gavin Dick - Scotland

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