Friday, 8 July 2011

Leadership in Farming

Leadership is many things. It's rewarding, uncomfortable, inspiring, time-consuming and it can be lonely.

Leadership requires courage, a dogged belief in one's causes, vision and boldness. But the overarching measure for good leadership is that the outcome is greater than oneself. Liked, loathed, good, evil or misguided, able leaders inspire passion and a following. They come in many guises.

So what relevance does this have to farming? A great deal. Our industry has a fundamental role to play in Britain's future. Yet I'm often perplexed at how few make the personal pledge to drive and lead our farming sector; how many have all the answers but will not raise a finger to effect change. I'm even more baffled at the criticism directed at those who do take a stand or campaign to make a difference.

Andrew Brown farms 243ha (600 acres) just south of Rutland Water. He is the chairman of the East Midlands NFU regional board, is signed up to HLS and an active communicator within and outside the industry. He says of his peers: "Farmers are very good at moaning, but unless you are prepared to do something about whatever your gripe is, don't moan. We in agriculture will become increasingly important players in government policy decisions, so the need for strong and decisive industry leaders is clear.

"Farmers are often unwilling to put their heads above the parapet and risk being shot at, but it is always better to be shot down in the air than when you are still on the runway. If you make enough noise for long enough, eventually the powers that be will start to take notice."

Peter Morris, chief executive of the National Sheep Industry, has had some challenging times in his role leading and representing the British sheep industry in the UK and Europe. He feels that "the constant knocking of leaders can deter the best people from taking on elected leadership roles, in some cases leaving roles of influence filled by individuals that work to the lowest common denominator, because that is the easiest thing to do".

Leadership in farming businesses is just as important as it is within the wider industry and it can really help grow a business and give it direction.

Robert Lasseter, a pig farmer near Weymouth in Dorset, sees vision, passion and a farm strategy as essential to his business and is doing his "little bit of leadership at home". He has developed the philosophy that the farm is like a retail outlet "open for business all day, every day, 24/7, shelves full".

He says that this allows him the confidence to welcome the farm's frequent visitors at any time, whatever the circumstances, which he says his team enjoys. "We have created a product with a unique selling point, that of having 'the best' animal welfare, and this is a major motivator for our team. We are one of only two commercial UK indoor-breeding units registered with Freedom Foods, and the team takes great pride in achieving that."

Andrew Blenkiron has recently moved from Crichel Estate in Dorset to become estate director at Euston Estate near Thetford; he sees vision and strategy as leadership fundamentals. "I need a clear view and need to know where I am going before I can expect anyone to come with me. Keeping people informed of, and therefore involved in, this vision is vital."

Another common thread for leading and inspiring a farm team is entering and winning awards. Heather Gorringe farms in Herefordshire with husband Phil and runs Wiggly Wigglers, an online "good life" store. She will use her runner-up win in the 2011 Observer Ethical Awards for Online Retailer to inspire her team, as well as to earn a voice to communicate farming to the general public.

Summing up leadership in farming, Andrew Brown says: "Every industry needs forward-thinking, positive leaders who have the passion, drive and vision to meet the challenges which face it in future years. Agriculture is no different, I believe we are about to enter a golden age where farmers and the industry regains the margins and status it has not seen for 60 years, we need the leaders to restore us to our rightful place in modern society."

To leave you with some lingering thoughts, Andrew borrows words from the philosopher Edmund Burke. "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."

The Institute of Agricultural Management and the Royal Agricultural College are seeking applicants for the 2012 Leadership Development Programme. All of those quoted in this feature attended this course. Applicants must consider themselves of leadership potential and have a passion for farming. Split into three parts, it runs from 19–24 February 2012 at the Royal Agricultural College, 11–15 March 2012 in Brussels and 30 April–4 May 2012 in London. The cost is £6,000, although funding may be available. Closing date for applications is 31 July; forms can be obtained from Rhonda (

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