‘R’ for resilience

Too much turkey and too many tipples – but we survive! Writing this article between Christmas and New Year, one could be forgiven for thinking about ‘resilience’ in these terms. However I am reflecting on the state of our industry, the content of recent Monitor Farm meetings and looking forward to the spring programme of more.

The Balance Sheet of UK Agriculture is one ‘to die for’ compared to many other industries and this is reflected in the low number of agriculture business failures. This is not to say that farming businesses don’t cease trading: they do, but often in measured ways or morphing into or with another business. The majority of farming businesses ‘survive through thick and thin’ in one way or another. However there is a difference between surviving fit, lean and efficiently, and surviving ‘hand to mouth’ and in real terms getting weaker.

Our Monitor Farm meetings are covering three areas which I believe keep businesses in the first category of survival:

  1. Measure to manage
  2. Planning ahead
  3. Less is more

Measure to manage: Our harvest 2015 CropBench+ benchmarking meetings, building on the 2014 data, are providing essential detail and comparisons about how some growers are producing crops with lower costs of production. Better targeting of inputs matched to yield potential and fully costed labour, power and machinery combinations are two key areas being identified.

Planning ahead: Nobody needs reminding of market volatility at the moment. With a knowledge of costs of productions, cash flow requirements and business objectives, we have practiced building marketing strategies to minimise losses, achieve target margins and/or realise potential in a rising market.

The graph below is a stark reminder of market volatility.

feed wheat futures graph

Our Monitor Farm meeting at Wantage in December costed out machinery replacement strategies and depreciation. It showed how a detailed knowledge of historic cost trends and forward planning of machinery replacement could give some security to a major cost item in the profit and loss account. Hence more certainty of future costs of production to help in forward marketing decisions.

To replace or not to replace

To replace or not to replace?

Less is more: The Monitor Farm meeting agenda is ‘farmer led, farmer driven’. A common and key topic is soils, and none less so that with James Lee at Crediton. We have now had two meetings with Philip Wright looking at soil structure and it is clear that less soil movement is advantageous to the soil and James’ pocket. There is a video of the recent meeting on our YouTube channel.

There are also reports on all our Monitor Farm meetings on the AHDB Cereals and Oilseeds website. Future meetings continue to address these issues and more. Again, details are on the website but if you wish to be individually emailed, please contact me.


  • 19 Jan – Labour power and machinery cost analysis
  • 25 Feb – Grain storage options
  • 7 Apr – Tackling the yield plateau
  • 28 Jun – Summer meeting


  • 11 Feb – Crop nutrition
  • 28 Apr – Cover crops
  • 7 Jul – Summer Meeting

In addition, we have our very own South West agronomy event in Taunton on 23 February. Visit cereals.ahdb.org.uk/events if you would like to attend.

For me, there is a sense of expectation on two more fronts. We are about to select our new Monitor Farms in Dorset and Cornwall which will be having their launch meetings this summer. Ahead of that, I am privileged to be heading to the States in May for a World Symposium organised by Alltech, entitled ‘New ideas’. Watch this space!



Taunton-based Philip joined AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds from HSBC Agriculture, where he was Senior Agriculture Manager in the South West region. Having studied agriculture at university, Philip spent seven years as a Senior Business Management Consultant with ADAS before developing his career with HSBC. He brings substantial business management experience to the Regional Team, and a detailed understanding of the complexities of the industry in the region.