Three years ago, Robert Cross held his first AHDB Monitor Farm meeting just outside Warrington. He had ambitions to be as good a farmer as he could be; to balance agronomy and profitability and to help farmers share their knowledge in Cheshire.
Now, three years and two children later, his business is in a much stronger position thanks, in part, to the experience of hosting the Monitor Farm group.
“I learnt something at every meeting,” he said. “It’s enabled me to review my whole outlook on agriculture, in some respects. It’s given me a closer bond to local farmers so now I don’t necessarily need to talk about the pleasantries of what’s going on in the field – I can get straight down to the nitty gritty with them. And it’s also given me a lot of links to the wider industry, which I wouldn’t have ordinarily had.
“And it has allowed me to put more decision making processes into everything instead of it being a little bit, should we say, ‘back of the fag packet’. We’ve now got a rationale for every decision that’s made on the farm, which, hopefully when it’s all joined up, makes a cohesive businesses strategy for 5-10 years.”
The Monitor Farm programme has had a significant impact on Robert’s business. In the short term, he said he has made changes to his drilling programmes in terms of oilseed rape and following beans into wheat.
Diversification is high in Robert’s mind for the medium term of his business development, as well as putting into action some of the recommendations from the Monitor Farm machinery review.
“I think longer term the Monitor Farm programme has taught me that benchmarking, continual analysis of the whole business is really important.
“But I wouldn’t do a whole business review necessarily; I think it’s more valuable to do separate reviews of separate areas and then put them together. You have the machinery review, personal review, grain marketing reviews, and when you put them all together you come up with a more devised plan.”
Robert’s experiences haven’t just benefitted his business – they’ve allowed him to develop personally too. Hosting four or five meetings every year, on a wide range of topics, Robert has opened his business up to scrutiny from his neighbouring farmers.
“I always knew I was stubborn, but by having people asking me questions at the meetings, it has made me really question whether I’m correct, or whether I was just being stubborn for the sake of being stubborn.”
Most of all, however, the Monitor Farm project has allowed Robert to evaluate every aspect of his farming business in detail.
“We’ve looked in depth at machinery, my own personal abilities, grain marketing, the actual site that I am on and the strengths and weaknesses of the business. We even covered a wide range of either long term or short term investments that you might make on farm.”
What’s next for Robert? Watch this space!
The final farm walk at the Warrington Monitor Farm with Robert Cross will be on 5 June.