The AHDB Monitor Farm project at Stowmarket was characterised by an attitude of openness and trust, according to its members.
Philip Partridge of Westerfield Hall, Ipswich, has attended the Stowmarket Monitor Farm group for the last three years and was invited onto the steering group after the first meeting he attended.
Philip said: “It’s interesting, talking to farmers from older generations, because they tell me that they would never have been this open before. Many wouldn’t have shared their figures and details with neighbouring farmers as we’ve done here.”
Brian Barker hosted the Monitor Farm project at East Lodge Farm near Stowmarket. He was announced as the host of a new AHDB Strategic Farm at the final meeting of the Monitor Farm this July. AHDB Strategic and Monitor Farms are part of the organisation’s new Farm Excellence Platform.
According to Philip, Brian has been instrumental in setting the tone for the meetings.
“Brian is exceptional in his willingness to share openly and in his ability to communicate. It’s fantastic that everyone is so open, honest and willing to share their figures.
“It’s definitely putting us on a better footing to help us improve our business.”
The meetings have given farmers a good lesson in attention to detail and record keeping, Philip said.
Another Monitor Farm steering group member, Roger Steed, agreed:
“It’s such a simple thing, but with the Monitor Farm we get to talk regularly with our neighbours. I wouldn’t probably get this in any other forum. We get to concentrate on what we’re doing too – it’s not like being at the pub or a rugby match.”
Discussions and networking at the heart of the Monitor Farm programme have also helped Philip make tangible changes to his business.
“The Monitor Farm gave me the chance to get to know my neighbour, Olly Pipe, better. We had the opportunity to talk and then started to work together. Now we co-operate, for example dressing seed at the same time.
“But it’s affected the crops we’re growing too. I’ve made contact with seed companies and now have some trials on our farm. We now grow rye on contract for a customer who we made contact with via the Monitor Farm project.”
Teresa Meadows, AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds knowledge exchange manager, said: “The Monitor Farm programme is highly regarded for its ability to facilitate local, farmer-to-farmer discussion in an independent forum. Members of the Stowmarket Monitor Farm found that being in the group gave their businesses real, tangible benefits. This is a great testament to the success of the programme. I’d encourage everyone to get involved in their local Monitor Farm group and realise these benefits for themselves.”
Originally, benchmarking attracted Philip to the Monitor Farm programme.
“I have cattle and sheep as well as arable crops and originally this put me off benchmarking. But now that AHDB have developed Farmbench, benchmarking should be a lot easier.”
AHDB’s Farmbench is a new whole-farm benchmarking tool which incorporates arable crops, cattle, sheep and potatoes, with dairy joining the mix in the future.
“Although I haven’t yet started benchmarking, I’ve gained a lot from the people I’ve met – both farmers and members of the trade. It’s taken me in all kinds of different situations and I’m very grateful for what it’s given us.”