It has never been more important for farmers to think of themselves as entrepreneurs.
There is a point in the story of every farm where an entrepreneur got things started. At some stage, the farm went from zero to one - the family business didn’t exist, and then it did. There are some farmers still operating today where they provided the entrepreneurial spark which got things started, but for many of us the truly entrepreneurial activity on our farms happened some time ago, often several generations ago.
For many of us, our farms have moved from being market-focused, dynamic, fast moving businesses to being factory production facilities; and we the farmers have moved from being entrepreneurs to being factory managers.
When I talk to some farmers I am amazed at the mindset they have developed. Many in the industry think that scale and efficiency are the only solutions to farming’s problems, rather than constantly focusing on the market and creating something that people want.
They have taught themselves to look for the incremental gains, accumulating dozens of 1% improvements, rather than trying to look for the big breakthroughs that could make a real difference.
They have started to think more about how they protect what they have, rather than how they can use what they have today as a platform for future growth.
Perhaps worst of all, the industry has become far too bureaucratic; as farmers we spend more time dealing with red tape, making sure that the rules are followed and our subsidy cheque arrives than we do on creativity, and on bringing something into the world which can have an impact beyond ourselves and beyond our farms.
On my farm, it was my great-grandfather who came over the border from Wales with nothing and managed to secure himself a small tenancy on a farm in Shropshire. Over the course of his career, he grew that into a series of successively larger tenancies and by the end of his career, in the 1960s, he had been able to buy each of his three sons a 600 acre farm.
Today when I tell people that story they say, “imagine being a tenant farmer and able to buy 1800 acres of land. You couldn’t do that today.”
The temptation is to put his success down to timing. His career was a time of huge opportunities for farmers - he was farming at a time when mechanisation was becoming widespread, when his farm was becoming more productive year on year, when land was cheap and the country was in the depths of rationing and desperate for food.
It is tempting to say, “that was the past, those opportunities will never repeat themselves.”
And it is true to say that those opportunities will never be repeated - exact replica opportunities are rarely repeated - but today is still the best time there has ever been to be a farmer.
In years to come they will say “imagine being a farmer at the dawn of the Digital Age of farming, when Robotics and Artificial Intelligence were just becoming available. Imagine the opportunities created by being able to produce food in an entirely different way.”
This is why I think it has never been more important for farmers to reconnect with the founding story of their farm, and to think of themselves as an entrepreneur above all other things.
New technology will create a huge amount of freedom for you as a farmer to become more entrepreneurial, but the first and most important change that needs to happen is for you to start thinking of yourself in this way.
An entrepreneur is:
Someone who takes resources from a lower level of productivity to a higher level of productivity. (NB the most important resource is you and your time - how can you take yourself to a higher level of productivity?)
Someone who is willing to use the market as their creative partner, to challenge and develop their thinking to create or produce something that people want
Someone who is willing to adapt, experiment, change, take measured risks and occasionally fail (!) because they know that if they are successful they will create something much more valuable than existed before
Those farmers who have wedded their identity as an individual to the enterprises and activities they currently do on the farm, and who are unwilling to think beyond this, will struggle in the future.
Those who truly consider themselves entrepreneur farmers will seize the opportunities that technology and change are going to create, and they will create a future for their farms which is much bigger than its past.
Small Robot Company is interested in working with ambitious farmers who think of themselves as entrepreneurs. We have just launched our Farm Ambition Blueprint, a business coaching program for farmers. This will give you a focused vision of the future, clarity on how technology can help you to achieve your aims, and the confidence to bring your plans to life
If you are interested in hearing more, please get in touch with us at email@example.com and we will send you details on how to apply.