A view from the field of… James Doel, Anglia Quality Meat (AQM).
In an era where farmers are facing the impending removal of single farm payments, increasing prices for feed, fertilizers, sprays, fuel…. And just about everything else under the sun, isn’t it time we look at changing the model and think about collaboration?
I work for a livestock marketing co-operative, we provide professional, targeted marketing for our customers’ livestock. Perhaps some of you reading this use us or a similar company to help market your livestock, however there will be a lot of you that will do “your own thing” selling to livestock markets, other farms or directly to abattoirs. Like so many things in life, there is no wrong or right answer. It’s about finding what it right for the individual farm.
Do you use an agronomist?
That said, I like to ask farmers, ‘Do you use an agronomist?’. Often the answer is yes. Then I follow with “why?”. The answer to this question quickly becomes a little more complex. But when broken down its usually down to the fact that they like the person. Or value the knowledge and experience that the agronomist provides. Let’s also be clear about the aim. It is to try and grow a more profitable crop and maximise the returns. All based upon the season Mother Nature puts in front of the farmer. The essence of the farmer-agronomist relationship is one that is based upon trust and results, but perhaps more importantly collaboration.
Let’s think about that for a moment, why pay someone to help advise you on doing something that you have done for years, in some cases decades?
I suggest it’s through the collaboration that you maximise your returns on the crop. And because no two years are ever the same you continue to use such a service.
So, what about Livestock?
For me, it makes sense that we should look at adopting a similar approach in livestock production.
Look at the current market. We have seen record prices for Cattle & Sheep for prolonged periods of time, however combined with record input prices the margin is still very tight, success will come from small gains.
We are forced to work more efficiently. But it is also good to increase productivity anyway.
Over the last decade farms are run with fewer staff. And those staff carry out a wider range of duties. Furthermore, an increasing level of paperwork and compliance is being thrust upon the whole industry.
I think that in the future we are only going to see these demands increase with the added challenge of recording environmental factors.
So, how will we manage those increased bureaucratic demands?
We have to think how we can work smarter, given the fewer numbers of people working in farming. And the added compliance requirements.
And as farmers, we still want to build a legacy. Maybe that is through diversification. Or you are looking to have a more extensive livestock system. Maybe the goal is reducing your input costs. Or maybe you have been more on the arable side and want to bring livestock onto the farm.
One answer is more efficient ways of working.
Technology is part of that. It is the technology that removes some onerous tasks for us so we can concentrate on the things that really will change the bottom line for us. And technology that saves us time. Technology that enables us to see things more clearly and more quickly, so we can make better decisions. Or technology that can help us measure things more accurately so we can achieve our goals faster as we are clear about the current situation.
And another answer is collaboration.
There is also something to be said for sharing best practice, advice, and experience. And it can work both ways.
Why not open your farm enterprises to those parties who can influence the performance of your animals?
- Farm business advice or livestock marketing – on farm advice of progress of animals and targeting different parts of the supply chain to help maximise returns and available markets
- Nutritional advice – through monitoring of livestock ensures that stock is being fed correctly throughout their life to produce as even a “product” as possible
- Veterinary – being able to spot issues sooner, reducing use of medication and ensuring that medication is provided and recorded when need
We know these people exist, but why don’t we use them more often. We are all experts in what we do. So, to collaborate and share information makes us all better at what we do. Moreover, it is in the interest of the vet, nutritionist, or farm adviser to help farmers succeed. Your success is their success.
So why not collaborate?
At AQM, I have been looking for ways where we can become the “agronomist” of livestock. And this journey has made me examine lots of different technological options.
There is plenty of choice. And I have tried a number of them. And they all do a job and some will suit others’ farm systems better than the rest.
The great thing about livestock business management technology is that it gives you insight. You can make decisions based off the powerful data points you are seeing. And in a way that makes them easy to interpret.
But what happens when you can’t explain an anomaly in what you are seeing? Or you are feeling out of your depth in the way you are diversifying?
This is where collaboration is key. What happens when you need that extra bit of help?
And we didn’t do it alone. We collaborate.
AQM+ has been produced in collaboration with AgriWebb.
We get to use on the best livestock management platforms (in my opinion) on the market to capture really powerful information.
We use AgriWebb on the farms we work with. And then the AQM+ service comes in. We can sit down with the farmer, review what we are seeing and think about the next steps. We are looking to collaborate and have an open discussion. It helps us look at all the options. We can be a sounding-board when you need us. Or we can be an adviser when you need us to be.
So, we have data. What now?
Monitoring performance data, I feel, is vital in today’s marketplace. However, it is what we do with that information that is key. In some situations, it is really obvious. In others, it is harder to discern.
Collaboration with AgriWebb has made us all better.
AQM has been working with AgriWebb for a number of years and it has made both organisations stronger in their ability to help farmers. For example, at AQM+ we also marry up kill data for customers to really expand the picture of their cost of production.
It is using the best of AgriWebb and collaborating with other parties that can really help change things for the better. It can empower us to help farmers more.
And technological integrations is another option. Technology firms work to develop and enhance their creation. But they also need to focus on their core business. It makes sense, right? But they have the option to collaborate with others to further enhance and broaden their operating ecosystem. Ruumi is one example. Through collaborating with AgriWebb, it enables users to have the chance to go further in their grazing goals. With the AgriWebb and Ruumi collaboration, it is putting more power in the hands of farmers to be more productive, sustainable, and efficient.
Enhance the product to make farming even more productive.
It is exactly the same with the way we like to collaborate with AgriWebb too. Enhance the product to give farmers an even greater chance to work smarter. In the end, we are all collaborating, be it farmer with technology, technology with technology, or farmer with livestock experts. And we are all aiming for the same thing: to make farming a better system for everyone. Prior to a farm visit, for example, data already captured will be monitored and stock assessed using AgriWebb. And we consider the location of the farm, its system, breeds of livestock. Having that data to hand throughout the relationship with the farm, means when we are on farm, we can be really focused on the things we want to improve.
So, is it time we were more open and collaborate to try new things in livestock production?
AgriWebb is continuing to grow the number of partnerships it works with, to make our technology even stronger as we support the future of farming. Find out more here.
James joined the AQM team in 2013, having previously worked in Live Events and Technical Project Management throughout the world. James was keen for a change career and wanted to return to his family’s agricultural roots. James brings a unique experience to livestock industry and is passionate about the use of technology to help further the productivity and output of customers livestock farms. This approach led to James being a finalist in the Innovation in Agriculture award at the 2019 British Farming Awards. It is a firm belief of James’s that the livestock industry is at a crossroads and the way forward is to capture data to help make business decisions with clarity and conviction.