AT the annual Wales Farming Conference in Builth Wells, Wisconsin dairy farmer Lloyd Holterman insisted that every farm needed key performance indicators (KPIs) to progress.
“Farmers have to constantly improve their businesses to move forward but if they don’t have a measurement, a goal, they are never going to know how to get there. That applies to all farms, whatever their scale, big or small.”
One of his goals was to achieve 1.7 litres of milk from 1kg of dry matter from the herd of 1072 Holsteins he runs with his wife, Daphne.
Once they achieved that, they focused on maintaining yield by measuring feed efficiency and other KPIs monthly.
“Don’t give up on a goal when you have achieved it,” Mr Holterman told more than 200 delegates attending the conference.
That message was shared by agri-food consultant Dr Jonathan Birnie, who advised farmers to identify the single biggest limiting factor in their business and to work out how to overcome it, seeking the help of others if needed.
He predicts exciting opportunities for Welsh farmers as demand increases from a growing world population and, even though there will be challenges too, the challenges of their global competitors will be greater due to factors including drought, pests, disease and soil loss impacting on yields from agriculture.
“The UK’s ability to grow grass and grain is significant, output and productivity can increase and we have 70 million consumers sitting beside us.”
He urged farmers to use data to manage, compare and justify their business decisions, using large retailers as a case in point.
Those retailers had become dominant because they had collected data on consumers and used it to manage their businesses, he said.
Dr Birnie also advised farmers to keep learning – last year Farming Connect held 1200 knowledge transfer events across Wales and 6,500 farmers undertook training through Farming Connect.
“Research shows that the average income of farmers who undergo continuous professional development is 12% higher than those that don’t,” he said.
Welsh sheep farmer Rhys Williams has grown his business by seeking knowledge and advice from others, specifically pioneers of the low-cost pasture based system he is developing in north Wales.
“I have sought inspiration from those who are excellent at growing grass and developing people, they made me take a huge interest in share farming and grassland farming,” said Mr Williams, who runs a large scale flock of Easycare ewes in a share farming partnership in Abergele.
Other speakers at the conference included Chris Moon OBE, a former farmer and British Army Officer who lost an arm and a leg while clearing landmines for a charity in Africa.
In a time of uncertainty for farming Mr Moon told farmers not to be crushed by that uncertainty. “Whatever life throws are us, however uncertain the future, we must never adopt the attitude that we are crushed.”
There were presentations by award winning Irish beef farmer Ger Dineen and dairy farmers, Tom Foot and Neil Grigg.
Three Nuffield scholars, livestock farmers Richard Tudor, Alexander Brewster and Geraint Powell, outlined the findings of their research and how they had integrated this into their businesses.
There were presentations by Farming Connect technical officers Lisa Roberts, Rhys Davies, Gethin Prys Davies, Imogen Ward, Catherine Price, Geraint Jones and Dr Delana Davies.
One of the delegates, Llyndy Isaf scholar Teleri Fielden summed up the day. “We have heard from seriously inspirational speakers. Today has given us all an opportunity to step back and to look at things with a fresh perspective. It is all too easy to be swamped by uncertainty.”