LIC (Livestock Improvement Corporation), the New Zealand farmer-owned co-operative, held its Pasture to Profit Conference 2018 in Birmingham yesterday, October 16.
A large crowd of dairy farmers and industry experts – along with a team of LIC consultants – attended the event.
As part of the morning session, four individual dairy farmers addressed the UK dairy industry's labour issue, providing examples of changes they made to their enterprises to allow their farms to become an attractive place to work.
Richard Smith - who operates a once-a-day (OAD) organic system - outlined that "attitude is more important than skill set", while Robert Craig outlined how he changed tactics when it came to advertising roles.
Robert runs three separate dairy farms and moved towards better job descriptions on social media as a tool of attracting employees to his business. He also outlined the challenges involved with multiple units.
Karen Halton - who runs a high-input system and produces milk all-year round with her husband Tom - explained how she uses her experience from having worked in the recruitment industry.
In addition, Chris North made an impressive presentation explaining how he progressed from an employee with ARC Farming to becoming a manager and business partner within the business.
Chris is a young farmer in Gloucestershire; he graduated from Harper Adams in 2011. He highlighted that it was always going to be a career in farming, although not coming from an immediate farming background.
Since his graduation in 2011, he worked for Adam Boley and Richard and Chris Norman at ARC Farming near Tetbury in Gloucestershire.
However, Chris has since progressed his career and gone into business with ARC Farming; a 25-year tenancy has allowed this to happen.
The goal is to milk 350 cows under an organic system on a 240ha block. Chris gave his views on: What makes a good manager; what makes a good employee; and why it is important to invest in people in order to retain them in the industry.
What makes a good manager?
Chris stressed that setting goals for both the managers and employees is crucial, and making sure all goals are aligned together so that both parties know what they want to achieve.
"This allowed us to understand each other a lot better; they were always keen to put me on courses that benefited me and the business," he said.
"It wasn't just a case of 'here is the farm', and every time something went wrong, say: 'Why didn't you do it like this?' - it was a case of discussing it first and letting me run with it myself.
"It was these short discussions that made the difference. I always found the daily catch ups with my manager - Adam - very motivating," Chris explained.
Chris also highlighted how Adam and the team were open and honest about the business's philosophy and what they were trying to achieve.
"They were willing to let me work independently to analyse, research and implement changes. One project I was involved in was working out milk solids versus live weight in order to achieve the percentage efficiency.
The enthusiastic dairy farmer also outlined how he was always thanked and recognised for his hard work on a daily basis.
What makes a good employee?
Speaking from an employee point of view, Chris stressed that the ability to work on your own initiative and the openness to new ideas is very important.
We want our business to develop and progress, but you need people within them to do the same," he explained.
Touching on communication, he said: "Communication is everything. It doesn't matter whether you are a relief milker or herd manager - or anywhere in between - that standard of work needs to be high; we need to be at the top of our game."
Chris also highlighted enthusiasm as an important trait in an employee.
Investing in people
Continuing, Chris said: "ARC paid for me to go to New Zealand on a Positive Farmers tour which I got a huge amount out of and met a number of inspirational people.
"They were very good operators and very interesting people and highly inspirational; I got a lot out of it. I also got a lot from farmers - who were not from farming backgrounds - running joint ventures.
"Three other people from within our business have now also travelled to New Zealand. I think that foreign travel and the ability to learn from other people are both important," he added.
ARC Farming take on a lot of work experience and vet students. This is something that Chris highlighted as being very important for both the business and the students.
I have had three students this year already and I always make sure that I give them the time to explain why we do things.
"I want them to understand the full business and why we do it the way we do; they might be the next person that comes and works for us," he explained.
Making the switch to management
Chris uses his experience of working as an employee with ARC Farming when it comes to management and has adopted some key management styles.
On this, he said: "We need to know what drives people. If we know how people work, then we can motivate them very quickly.
I find communication the big one. Things change on an hourly basis and if you don't keep people in the loop, they can soon get annoyed.
"One of the big things we do is, when we walk the grass, we all do it together. It's a great way to discuss everything we are doing and also discuss the grass; if there is a problem with residuals, you can talk about it there and then."
Continuing, he said: "Regular catch ups during the day are important. Providing training, discussion groups and courses are also very important; being able to go out and speak to people that are doing the same job motivates them.
"I also take the time to say thank you for a job well done everyday," he concluded.