Christopher Padfield  -  Post Formal Education - nurturing and growing talent?

I live on work on a 4th generation family farm on the Gloucestershire / Worcestershire border.  It is a mixed farm consisting of a Beef fattening joint venture and growing combinable crops.  We have been direct drilling all crops including maize for the last decade.  The farm is entered into an HLS scheme which is central to our focus on creating wildlife habitat around the enterprise. We also run some stubble to stubble contracting.

After working abroad in Ghana, Guinea Bissau and France, I worked for a local agricultural college mainly assessing NVQ qualifications.  I also achieved qualifications in Internal and External Verification and a PGCE (adult education).  I then set up a small training company where we offer training services, mainly LANTRA and City and Guilds qualifications, aimed at the land-based skills sector.

When not working, I love riding motorbikes and drinking whisky.  Not a great combination though a recent biking trip to Islay managed to get the best of both worlds.

I would like to thank all those supporting my Nuffield Scholarship, not least the Central Region Farmers Trust for their sponsorship, and my wife and parents for their support and backing.


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20th International Farm Management Congress, Quebec July 1

20th International Farm Management Congress, Quebec July 12th to 17th

Posted by Christopher Padfield on September 5, 2015

Appears in Business, Crops, Dairy, Horticulture, Livestock, Organic, Pigs

20th International Farm Management Congress, Quebec   July 12th to 17th

The International Farm Management Association held their 20th congress in Quebec this year.  This fitted neatly into my planned tour of Canada and so I booked a place.  I wasn't sure what to expect but I found a really well organised, friendly and supportive group of people, mainly made up of academic types keen to learn from each other and deliver their research papers.  The format consisted of three days (Monday, Wednesday, Friday) of lectures from keynote speakers in the morning and the bewildering choice of over 40 papers delivered in the afternoon (except Friday), of which only a small number could actually be attended by any one person.  Tuesday and Thursday were well organised field trips to a range of businesses, I chose to concentrate mainly on livestock, partly due to personal preference but also because I thought they were more relevant to my study topic.


The theme of the conference was 'Healthy Agriculture for a Healthy World'.  An interesting talk by Diane Parent pointed out the profound changes in agriculture were putting pressure on farmers and, by implication, on whether young people want to step into the industry.  Pressures include the volatility of open markets, regulation, health food fads, NIMBYs and the social isolation both physically and emotionally.  New entrants to farming were less concerned with extended family, neighbours and village life and more about couples, leisure activities and life on social media.

For me, the most interesting presentation was by Sam Sebastian, Managing Director of Google Canada on 'How Google works: lessons  and opportunities for agriculture'.  He pointed out over 2 1/2 billion people have frictionless access to the internet (he should try using my ISP) and this will increase to 5 billion very soon.  He stated 'Every company will be a software company' and challenged farmers to understand what changes they needed to make in their business culture to meet this trend.  Also key was that farm management is about developing people to do the right things.  He pointed to Google's 6 key tenets. 

  • Big clear vision
  • Transparency - weekly meetings with company founders for all staff
  • Ideas come from everywhere - flat organisational structure and avoiding HIPPOs (highest paid persons opinion)
  • Data beats opinion - base decisions on fact
  • People are your number one asset
  • Moonshot thinking - think big

Andrew Macfarlane delivered a paper on professionalisation of the farm business and highlighted 12 key skills for a farm business manager.

  1.  HR management including contracts, coaching and mentoring
  2. Compliance - Environment, H&S, welfare etc.
  3. Cash flow management
  4. Debt management
  5. Animal feeding and nutrition
  6. Agronomy
  7. Genetics
  8. Technology skills
  9. Interpretive skills especially to analyse the reams of data generated
  10. Risk management - exchange rates, climate, etc.
  11. Strong networks - research, specialists, processors and markets
  12. Culture - of ongoing learning to stay ahead of the curve


Points to ponder:

 After 14 lectures, 2 days of field trips and numerous papers it is hard to summarise the learning points.  However it appears to me that successful farm businesses have a clear vision of what they want to achieve, and then focus their attention on a structure to deliver this: developing leaders, defining the culture of the firm, and then managing the performance of the staff both in terms of expectations, values and responsibilities.

How do you do that on a family farm   - to create the space to step back and really evaluate what you want to achieve and potentially change business / family cultures?



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