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The Intuitive Farmer: Inspiring Management Success

The Intuitive Farmer: Inspiring Management Success

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The Intuitive Farmer: Inspiring Management Success

327 pagine
5 ore
Jan 13, 2016


Successful farm management is based upon excellent decision making by the farm owner. In practice, most decisions are made intuitively rather than the result of careful data collection and analysis, or analyzing others' views and associated factors. Thus, the farmer's intuitive decisions have a major impact on the business practices, efficiency, profitability, and success of the farm. In the form of a character-driven novel, this book guides the reader through a series of lessons for farmers to improve their intuitive decision making. The story follows Ben, a New Zealand farmer, as an important member of a discussion group. The experimental program is set up by a management researcher, Tom, to explore the best way to improve farmers' intuition. The farmer group has different characters in different situations, each one of which leads to interesting dilemmas and lessons. Each chapter addresses a different issue affecting farmers, such as risk management, benchmarking, budgeting and planning, negotiation skills, active listening, and farm ownership. By the end of the novel, the reader will have absorbed important farm management principles and practices through the activities and findings of the group. The Intuitive Farmer follows on from successful business management books, such as The Goal, which communicate business ideas and strategies in novel form. This is the first such book applied to agricultural management practices, providing a dependable source for farmers, agricultural and farm management students, and people involved in agriculture industries. [Subject: Agriculture, Business, Adult Fiction]
Jan 13, 2016

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The Intuitive Farmer - Peter L. Nuthall


Chapter one

Ben’s paradise

Ben woke early one morning and quietly crept into the kitchen to make a pot of tea. He really enjoyed the peace of the morning and looked forward to a piping hot cup of tea while browsing through yesterday’s newspaper that had only arrived, as normal, later on the previous day. The rest of the house slumbered on. There wasn’t much news other than a report on the America’s Cup yachting in San Francisco where it looked as though the British syndicate was about to triumph over the US team in the match racing contest.

But then he noticed the glaring headline on the last page. ‘Baby death likely with nitrogen pollution’. He read on to discover the medical officer of health was voicing concern that one day a baby might have ‘blue baby syndrome’. This was due, the article went on, ‘to excess nitrogen in the water being absorbed when the baby was fed formula made with the tap water. This could lead to the blood haemoglobin not doing its job of oxygen transfer’. The reporter went on, ‘however, the nitrogen losses from farmers’ fields have yet to put the groundwater up to a dangerous level. But they are rising’. Ben mused on the consequences of his fertiliser and general farming practices. Fortunately the latest tests had given the local groundwater a clean bill of health.

Ben glanced out the kitchen window this spring morning and feasted on the glory of the homestead garden which was protected by the well-grown English trees surrounding the area. His partner and wife, Jill, was a keen gardener and spent many hours planting, tending and harvesting flowers, vegetables and fruit. What with the farm meat they were largely self-sufficient. The daffodils and cherry trees were in full bloom.

He stepped outside to take in the early morning sun now reaching the covered deck and breathed in the fresh, well-scented air. From this vantage he could survey some of the farm as it spread out before him on the rolling down country. A couple of mobs of ewes with frisking lambs could be seen as they munched their way into the early spring growth. The pasture held promise for greater production as the soil warmed up.

But Ben also picked up something slightly concerning. There was the distinct smell of smoke on the gentle drift of the morning air. Where was it coming from? Not from his property he was sure, given the wind direction.

Just then something closer to home caught his attention. An occasional snore rumbled from the bedroom further along the deck. Graham, his son, home on a very brief visit for a friend’s wedding, would, doubtless, appear much later in the morning. In contrast, he surmised, Jill was probably emerging from the depths of her sleep and would want her morning pick-me-up brought to the bedside. After re-boiling the jug, Ben filled a mug with tea and took it to her.

Jill was sitting up waiting. ‘I’m worried about Annie for we haven’t heard anything for two weeks.’ Annie was their eldest daughter now living in London in a flat full of university friends. Jill and Ben’s two children had both flown the nest, making their own way in the world. Graham was normally in the US working on a Midwest farm as part of his yearning to experience agriculture in a different environment. He hoped to return to the home farm one day, perhaps after working professionally in an agriculturally-related job. A banker’s job involving farm lending would be ideal.

Annie, on the other hand, had no earthly desire to spend her life in the country, having found the world of the theatre exciting and flexible. Her talents meant jobs in many places were possible. She was having such a good time working in the West End on a long running play that thoughts of returning never entered her head. Annie had been supported through drama school in Wellington, and had managed to get a scholarship to a further course in Paris. Her reviews were so exceptional that the world of acting was opening up ‘very nicely, thank you’.

‘I will give her a ring tonight,’ Jill noted, ‘I always find getting the timing difficult as with daylight saving it is hard to work out just when she might be free before she goes off to rehearsals for the next show. Could you help remind me when to ring please?’ Ben grunted.

The lambing so far had gone well with the threatened sou’wester and snow not eventuating. There was still a long way to go, however. Ben mentally prepared for spending a day going round and checking the ewes, both those yet to lamb and the mobs of lambed ewes. He always enjoyed these jobs for the sight of groups of lambs romping provided real satisfaction. They seemed to be no different from human children finding friends with whom to play tag-like games, not to mention frolicking with high jumps as they bounced on their long, skinny legs. Ben certainly was anxious to get round the remaining lambing ewes to see if any needed assistance. With the good weather, losses of both ewes and lambs had been minimal.

Ben got out the breakfast makings and proceeded to munch on the energy that would take him through to lunch. Breakfast in their household was certainly a casual affair, with each to their own. He always enjoyed a grapefruit either picked from the trees in a north facing sheltered spot beside one of the garages, or from the fruit shop in town when Jill’s trees were not producing. After filling a thermos with hot tea, he shouted out to Jill that he was off for the morning. He had almost become addicted to tea after giving up coffee some years ago when he discovered that coffee, and similarly too much wine, tended to stimulate his heart rate to an uncomfortable level.

Jill said, ‘Do you have any requests for town? I’m going in later to do the weekly grocery shop.’ While they were largely self-sufficient food wise, many needs were still beyond their skills, or were too time-consuming. Jill had tried cheese making once, and while the outcome was tasty, the time and bother meant it was not a favourite pastime.

‘You might see if the beer is on special for supplies are getting down,’ called back Ben, and continued, ‘I’m off now. Don’t forget you are meeting one of the Country Women’s Institute members later.’

Jill added, ‘I’ll have my phone with me should you think of anything else, and be sure to take yours with you. You know I don’t like to think that if something happens while you are out by yourself you would have no way of calling for help.’

Ben made his way outside, grabbing his hat and thick jacket from the porch for the wind was keen. He went to untie Jack, his heading dog, so he could help with the shedding off. Jack was now a bit long in the tooth, but was a loyal hand. Ben reckoned, having learnt how sheep react at lambing, Jack was worth two youngsters.

As he strode off to the first paddock he started thinking about the plans for the next two weeks. While the property was not naturally high fertility soil, some fields were reasonable especially after being in pasture for a few years. The price of wheat had been going up with the high demand in the US for corn to be put into fuel alcohol production. The feed lots were finding it hard to obtain sufficient grain to keep the beef supplies rolling into the hamburger bars. The barley price was also rising so Ben wondered if several paddocks should be sprayed to allow direct drilling of spring cereal crops.

Intruding again into his thoughts was that increasingly strong smell of smoke drifting in on the breeze. He hoped it wasn’t something serious, but putting paid to these hopes, a siren started up, arriving at his ears in strange waves of penetrating noise. What was up? His concern, however, was not enough to completely redirect his train of thought.

Ben had always maintained a now ageing header using his skill and knowledge of things mechanical. He always obtained immense satisfaction from keeping the machinery ticking over. The header had virtually no resale value but it could still harvest crops very efficiently. Obtaining spare parts was sometimes a problem, but he did have a friend who enjoyed tooling what was needed.

While one of Ben’s ancestors had been an early settler, his parents had ended up living on a small block on the outskirts of a middle sized country town. The town even had a couple of movie cinemas. The original farm had provided relatives with an occupation, but not his father. He had started up a leather business when a sympathetic uncle guaranteed a substantial loan. Both Ben’s parents became involved. With good management the business prospered, ending up employing a loyal group of mainly country-oriented women. The profits were prudently invested. When Ben was ready in his parents’ eyes, they had been very happy to back his move into farm ownership using their business and other assets to help purchase a farm in the local area they were now so familiar with.

Ben had been sent to a fee-paying traditional school with its reputation for educating the leaders of the arts and industry, but he had hated just about every minute of the experience. His parents were in a totally different social class to most of those involved in the school. He felt ostracised, and definitely did not enjoy his secondary days. But he stuck it out as he knew his parents were determined to give him every chance and had made many sacrifices to allow him the privileges of an excellent and rounded education.

Despite trying for more, Ben’s parents ended up having just one child. The fertility treatment had turned out to be a very expensive mistake. But who was to know? Ben only discovered the full story later in life though it had crossed his mind that it was unusual to be an only child.

Ben’s parents had always been curious about farming and, of course, the world stage with respect to leather goods. They enjoyed running a few animals on their block. Despite the lack of higher education, they read widely and enjoyed listening to the radio when programmes about general knowledge were being broadcast. They also enjoyed the many country-oriented programmes put out by the Department of Agriculture and the two university colleges, Lincoln and Massey, which offered agriculture degrees. It was probably these contacts that put the idea into Ben’s parents’ minds that he should follow through with further education at some stage after school. They enquired into a number of places and discovered it was possible to take a Diploma in Farm Management by correspondence with some intensive live-in sessions from time to time. They broached this idea with Ben who readily agreed if first he could get some practical experience on a range of farms. Anyway, his parents pointed out, the course required at least two years of practical experience before enrolment. So, the plan was hatched.

Looking forward to getting away from school strife, about which he had never talked to his parents, just grinning and bearing it all, Ben planned to spend a year on four different farms up and down the country prior to spending a year wandering the world. Then, he stressed, he would be ready to knuckle down to serious work while taking the course which would involve another four years’ part-time study. Talk about planning ahead … so, it was all agreed. Ben had always admired the degree certificates he had seen on his school teacher’s office wall, and could now imagine his own certificate emblazoned with ‘Ben Fastways, Diploma in Farm Management’! Around this time his parents often talked about how they would help purchase a farm for Ben. They were keen to help their pride and joy into agriculture as they could see how much satisfaction he obtained from the industry and, in their view, he would be a good farmer.

That was all history now. As he opened the gate to the first field Ben mused on the road to this challenging, but rewarding, farm. It had all come to pass, but there had been many years of hard work and a need to tightly control finances. It was only now that there was a little surplus cash enabling the odd holiday, making use of a ‘farm minding’ service recently started in the region. Ben had always been quietly ambitious and had borrowed heavily at times to enlarge the farm. He had also managed to provide his parents with a reasonable living in their town apartment. He would continue to support them, paying back the loans they had provided, not that he didn’t delight in helping them live a reasonable life. It was just as well Jill’s parents could provide for themselves, with the help of some of her siblings, for Ben and Jill’s farm was still financially challenging in some years.

Ben had learnt a lot over the years, but still believed his management skills could be improved. After all, he was still only 52 with many more years of farming in front of him. He felt excitement over the prospects as he moved through the first field of lambing ewes. He spied a ewe down and went over to discover she was working hard at pushing out a large lamb. He decided to lend a hand as the ewe looked on the edge of exhaustion. It didn’t take long for Ben to have the well-developed lamb sitting beside her recovering mother. A precautionary jab of penicillin was in order.

Jill and Ben enjoyed being part of the farming community and had many friends. The neighbours were also in their circle of friends and often helped on the farm when several hands were needed. Ben reciprocated so all in all it was a good locality to work in. Jill also helped from time to time when the pressure was on. She actually enjoyed many tasks, particularly at shearing when she could join Ben in the shed recording numbers and yields. Shearing also gave Jill a chance to practice feeding large numbers of people without losing her cool. She was very sociable, some would say extrovert, and loved nothing more than a party or a simple get-together with some of the neighbours. Jill also loved talking to the shearers, and anyone else who was helping out in some way. Ben was a bit more retiring, but a good debate on some pithy issue stimulated him.

Jill didn’t have a rural background. She was adopted at birth and still had no idea who her birth parents were. She did reasonably well at school. It was a poor area, where she had to defend herself with physical acuity on occasions.

As the sun moved further into the sky and Ben continued his rounds he was thinking over the feed situation and how the lambs were growing. With the help of Jack he had weighed some of the lambs that had been ‘glow paint’ sprayed to signify their birth date. The growth wasn’t quite what he had expected. His mind started mental calculations on likely grass growth relative to the demands. He jotted down observations in a notebook with the intention of updating his feed budgeting computer system later in the day. He would get it to calculate various scenarios under a range of weather assumptions.

By now it was time to head home for lunch. He had been working steadily through the mobs and was pleased with the lambing so far. He had taken a break halfway, taking time to drink some still hot tea from the very good thermos he had protected over the years. Jack had enjoyed a slurped drink of water from the nearby trough. The sun was nearing its zenith and warming his back.

The house would be warm when he returned, with the sun streaming into the kitchen area. As he looked out over the farm from the highest field he could see the depth of the green in the pastures that had resulted over the years from his consistent fertiliser programme. The nutrients combined with his reasonably managed grazing patterns had markedly strengthened the clover population and growth. The pastures were now sitting pretty, ready to utilise the spring rain and sun. The sight warmed his heart.

In contrast, however, were the discordant sirens coming from some distance. He had increasingly heard them over the course of the morning, creating mounting concern. Was a disaster brewing? From his vantage point he could see a thick pall of smoke hanging around above the trees surrounding the local community centre and church way off to the north. He noted to himself that he must phone the instant he got in for lunch to find out what was happening. He kept his cell phone for only real emergencies.

Ben wondered how he would be rated as a farm manager. He had read an article in one of the farming magazines about the results of a farm management research project. The research, according to the report, had looked at many hundreds of farmers and had tried to explain why some were much better than others. This was a topic that had exercised Ben’s brain many a time as he carried out some of the repetitive tasks round the farm. He knew some of his neighbours reported much higher profits than he managed, though he suspected others did not do as well. There must be some reason for the variations – if only he could discover them. An increase in the cash take-home pay would be very welcome if only he could nut out the key to being more efficient. What was he missing?

Sometimes Ben lay in bed at night pondering his neighbours. Down at the pub, one particular neighbour was always noting his high lambing percentage and his good crop yields, not to mention the wool output and how lucky he was to always make the best wool sale of the year. But you could never be sure what to believe. Sometimes the quiet ones did in fact end up with greater productivity and the boasters were just that. Somehow they had to make the community realise just how good they were. Despite these night-time thoughts, these ideas were now a long way from his conscious in this glorious spring – who cared?

He strode along with a spring in his step as Jack followed on his heels. He was looking forward to seeing what Jill had brought back from town in the way of a tasty treat. She would also have picked up the mail from the box which was always a mixed blessing for unexpected bills were not unheard of – and he wondered what other problems would appear. Perhaps a circular from the regional council announcing some new restrictions on what he could do on the farm. He decided to put such thoughts out of his mind for the scenes before him were a much brighter prospect, as was the thought of a hearty lunch and time with Jill catching up on her day so far.

Chapter two

Higher things

As it turned out, Jill did manage to replenish the beer supplies which was perhaps a good thing. The Country Women’s visitor who was expected soon after lunch sometimes liked a glass of beer as they sat in the afternoon sun. The women had to start thinking about a fundraising event to support the scholarship offered to young rural lasses interested in furthering their studies. It was only in recent times that females were coming to the fore in farm, and country enterprise, management.

The ladies had been considering auctioning off a collection of useful things which they hoped would be donated. Past efforts had given Jill’s persuasive powers plenty of challenge, but some good rewards. A weekend in one of their members’ holiday house on the beach, for example, would fetch a good bid, as would cases of wine from a local vineyard. They needed to think about all the possibilities with, no doubt, the help of some refreshment.

At lunchtime, the moment Ben came in the door, Jill asked if he had heard the rumour. Ben had no idea what she was talking about, but suddenly wondered if it was something to do with the smoke. ‘I’ve noticed a strong smell of smoke, and heard heaps of sirens … does this relate to what you are talking about?’

‘It sure does. The rumour in town is that a firebug has torched our new community centre with it being almost burnt to the ground. The police are involved as are the fire department investigators. No wonder you heard so many sirens. I don’t doubt the rumours. It is a major disaster. Is it the work of kids, or something more sinister?’

One of the locals was an ultra-right winger who people sometimes worried about given some of his strongly voiced anti-establishment views. Jill and Ben spent some time talking about the situation and possible causes. Was the insurance up to date? With their talk over both the concern and the excitement, lunch seemed to be over in a jiffy.

After lunch, Ben headed out to take on the next task. It related to a decision that could have a significant impact on the farm. Ben knew thinking ahead was always very important and seldom found himself unprepared for what the markets and weather threw at him. Ben still remembered one of his primary school teachers pounding the table, almost shouting, ‘The person who thinks ahead is prepared for the twists and turns of life and work … don’t ever forget this!’ For primary schooling, Ben had gone to a nearby school with nothing more than a bike ride down the road being necessary. It was a two-teacher school where parents were often called in to help with various outings and projects.

Ben’s thoughts returned to the present as he dug a hole to check the soil moisture. He was working through the decision over which fields might be sowed with a cash crop. As he promised himself earlier in the day, he had to update the computer-based feed budget and explore which paddocks he could take out of pasture. It was important to make sure he could still feed the ewes and lambs to get the lambs away by Christmas. So much depended on the weather.

As he worked, Ben mused on how the district primary school had provided him with a supportive environment where he made good friends. The only downside was that the school wasn’t big enough to have sports teams for joining the country competition. Instead, Ben’s dad took him to a nearby town where the clubs drew on several schools to make up the numbers. Sports competitions always involved parents ferrying the teams to neighbouring towns. Ben enjoyed sport, and while not that good, he learnt the rules, skills and the thrill of occasional triumphs.

Ben could still distinctly remember meeting a tall and lanky guy on one of the longer excursions to play rugby football soon after he left secondary school. The guy, who he soon discovered was called Tom, stood out in the opposition line-outs and was the chief reason Ben’s team had lost the game. Later on, Ben took note that Tom had been selected for the Country Colts team which had good success that year against their city equivalents. It was always good to see country sides trouncing their city slicker counterparts as the townies were so often full of themselves.

Tom Knightsbridge, Ben had noted just the other day, was the name attached to a piece on managerial skill research in the farming journal. It was an unusual name for New Zealand with more of an English flavour, being associated with the famous department store in London. Ben wondered if it was the same guy he had remembered from rugby days. If so, playing rugby had clearly not dented his mental powers. He could still remember chatting to Tom at one of the after-match functions of tea and fruit cake put on by the local branch of Country Women. They probably raised a bit of money from the rugby club. Tom was playing for the Lincoln College team made up of students taking the agricultural science degree.

In those earlier rugby days Ben enjoyed the camaraderie that usually occurred between the competing teams. At the after-match function he remembered telling Tom, ‘My parents wanted me to go to university, but I couldn’t face the years of continued self-discipline and lack of funds.’

‘I know what you mean,’ was Tom’s quick response, ‘I can always remember dreaming about getting out of school and away from late night swotting sessions to start some real life. But it’s not that bad. The final exams only occur at the end of the year leaving time for sport and a bit of frivolity.’ Tom made it sound a reasonably acceptable life, and it was clear he thoroughly enjoyed some of the intellectual challenges.

Tom had always had a strong sense of enquiry, seldom stopping until he understood whatever it was he was covering. ‘And,’ he continued ‘the freedom to enjoy partying, and friends, was a real eye opener after the rigours of secondary school overburdened with rules for everything.’ Ben could identify with that sentiment.

Jolted back to the present with yet another fence to climb after crossing several fields, Ben was coming to the view that soil moisture was somewhat better than he had envisaged. He always kept a mental note of the rainfall relative to the warm winds and sun-filled days so he could have an intuitive feeling of how much grass would grow over the next few days and weeks. The air temperature was clearly important with its influence on soil temperatures. He remembered one of his agricultural teachers always harping on about the idea of soil water budgets. Ben intuitively used his observations to keep a mental estimate of current soil water.

For secondary school, Ben had to travel an hour or so by bus to the larger town beyond the downs from where the family house was located. The school specialised in agriculture and while many students took arts and science subjects, a good proportion took the agriculturally-orientated courses. His parents had insisted that he work through the science stream to a reasonable level, as well as agriculture. After all, they were paying. They wanted to ensure he wasn’t locked into agriculture, but despite this Ben never wanted to do anything else.

Ben enjoyed everything agricultural from the hard grind of digging post holes to working out cash flows. Agriculture energised him with its very many challenges. Indeed, he often mused

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