Assess your farming businesses and its strengths and weaknesses. Keep it simple. Write them down.
Understand what your objectives are. Too often I have sat down in front of a family farming business of two or more generations and asked the question, “Where do you think you will be in three years time? Or 10 years time?” For them to stare at each other open mouthed and realise that they have not thought of this. This discussion is so important. It is often that different members of a farming business have different expectations, for example, a farmer may like farming pigs only for his son to hate pigs, but enjoy arable farming. Understanding your differences and your expectations can help give a business direction and aid future planning.
You also need to understand how you feel about your farming business. If the answer is a positive one that is good. If the answer is a negative one that is also helpful as you then need to consider how you would like to feel about your business and explore what you would like to change to improve how you feel.
There are three groups of people to keep happy for the success of your farming business: yourself and other business owners; your employees; your customers.
However, we do need to be realistic about the current circumstances. Farmers are about to see the greatest amount of changes we have seen for a generation. So key is determining which changes are essential and balancing them with other changes. The current risk for farmers is overload. Too much change can see high stress levels, low morale and diminishing performance of the business. So the answer is to break down the changes into bite-size , manageable pieces.
“But,” I hear you cry, “We don’t know what changes we are planning for because the government have not told us.” This is always true. The reality is that the individual farmer cannot predict what legislation, subsidy or tax changes any government may make. However, it is possible to predict the political direction of travel and its economic, environmental and business consequences. This is why any plans you make are not set in stone because both God and DEFRA can laugh at your plans. Rather the plan gives you a route to follow. Imagine it is like planning a road trip from London to Edinburgh, if the A1 is shut you can still make the journey, but you may have to divert.
You are not alone. You should involve other people whether professionals that you trust, other farmers, agricultural groups and charities, more formal bodies such as Natural England or AHDB as appropriate.
Key to making sure changes happen is to establish time scales. When choo+
+sing time scales for change avoid using financial or calendar years to rule the timetable as these are purely arbitrary. Rather put your changes into four categories:
Deadlines – these are usually for changes imposed on you by a clear definable legislative change as you need to comply by a certain date;
Quick fixes – these are changes that you can achieve that will show an immediate benefit to you and the farm. Remember you cannot do all quick fixes at once or you risk being overwhelmed, but ensure they are in your plan;
Slower changes – these allow for adjustments over a period of time so that the business avoids a shock that could hurt the business financially or the morale of its people. A good example is the phased retirement of a partner;
Continuous changes – these become a natural flow in the farming business and are driven by improved business results. Note not all improved business results are financial, saved time and improved wellbeing are also good business.
Review where you are with your plans at least once a month and change the plan if you need to – it is a living thing. The best and most successful businesses I know have regular brief meetings of the owners and key employees weekly, often around a shared breakfast table on a Monday morning.
Every farming business has a choice to make – you can allow change to be imposed on you or you can take control of change and plan your approach to it. Even if your approach is unique.