Category: 2019 Conference

EoEFC Chairman Tom Martin on Agriculture’s need to embrace personal development and knowledge exchange

EoEFC Chairman Tom Martin on Agriculture’s need to embrace personal development and knowledge exchange

Author Tom Martin 22nd October 2019

Farming is the fourth industry I’ve worked in, having known a decade’s employment in film sales, and a few years in distribution, and in strategic consultancy. Like the other industries, farming is a broad church with passionate, dedicated people who really care about their job and look forward to getting out of bed in the morning. Further to this, I in fact received the warmest welcome as an entrant into farming versus other industries, and the community support is second to none.

Why, then, are we trailing behind other industries – and national yield data indicates that we’re even trailing behind our peers in other countries – in knowledge transfer, learning, and personal development?

I hear farmers telling me with pride that they trained at the ‘university of life’, and that “the land teaches me all I need to know”, but arguably that has brought us to a situation where yields are flat, soils are in the worst condition they’ve ever been, and our ultimate customer (the general public) think we’re either fat cat anti-environmentalists, or Worzel Gummage. Never has there been more to gain from bettering ourselves as food producers, land managers, and brand ambassadors.

One of my pleasures is chairing the East of England Farming Conference, held this year on 14th November, and welcoming speakers such as Shadow DEFRA Secretary Sue Hayman, AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds Chairman Paul Temple, and Farmers Guardian Editor Ben Briggs along with a wealth of other influential and inspiring speakers. Delegates can expect to be fed and watered – literally, intellectually, and strategically – for a full day, and the excl VAT cost is under £80, so why were ticket sales so sluggish to start with? As farm managers, we are the most important determinant of the success or failure of our businesses, and yet as an industry we’re reluctant to pay the price of a fat lamb or half a ton of wheat to improve and revitalise that key component; ourselves.

Why have we striven for so long to improve productivity by investing in any number of factors, and omitting (not exclusively, but often) to better ourselves? My bank manager tells me that simply having a written budget for the year ahead puts me in the top 50% of farm managers, and our agronomist tells me that when he visits the vast majority of customers he is left to walk the fields alone and simply send recommendations with very little interest from the one person who will benefit the most from the knowledge he has to share.

And that’s not all; there are another set of skills that we use every day, and that receive a huge amount of focus in other industries, but not often in farming. Elsewhere they are termed ‘soft skills’, and in previous jobs, I have been trained in communication, influencing, public speaking, managing employees, relationship building, and even ‘having difficult conversations’. In four years back on the farm, I’ve yet to find a training course in agriculture that covers any of these areas. I occasionally coach the local Young Farmers Club in public speaking, and I tell them that it’s not about winning a YFC competition, but in learning how to communicate, and that it can change your life – it can help you get a girlfriend or boyfriend, get a job, or in securing a contract.

In the current environment of severe uncertainty, pressure on prices, and the potential withdrawal of government funds, can we afford not to invest in ourselves? We face in farming what evolutionary biologists might term a ‘mass extinction’, and only the fittest will survive. Farming, like the beautiful game (rugby of course), is a ‘thinking man’s game’, so let’s focus on learning, let’s invest in ourselves, and let’s share what we know; we’re in this together.

Book your ticket for the East of England Farming Conference today-