Improve knowledge and skills base
The results of the QMS intentions survey carried out in Autumn 2013 showed the confidence among Scottish beef producers to have been at its lowest level since 2008.
This survey was carried out at a time when the industry was recovering from an extended period of poor weather leading producers to require greater quantities of inputs and contributed to them identifying input costs rather than just policy uncertainty as one of their key concerns over their future prospects.
The majority of farmers are labouring under production systems with high compliance and production costs relying heavily on labour, power, machinery and buildings to produce cattle. As margins come under pressure more and more of these farmers are becoming interested in reviewing the entirety of their cattle operation looking to strip out cost and increase output.
QMS enterprise costing surveys have for many years identified the benefits of high levels of technical performance and associated skill levels in delivering the best margins. The challenge for the industry is to maintain, enhance and deepen the skills levels in the industry as the results of research and technology advance the knowledge base to be able to meet the objective of improving profitability.
One solution to such a challenge is self-help, however, whilst farmers acknowledge the need for such activities, they generally have very little spare time in which to develop themselves, pick up new information or learn new techniques which could benefit their business.
There are a number of proven solutions available which will improve efficiencies and farmers only need an opportunity to see them in action before adopting them.
Creating a network of initiatives based around group working, usually with a professional facilitator and/or consultant, is a proven method of farmers picking up relevant information of new techniques and implementing them.
Farmers learn best from other farmers so another method is to use 'champion' farmers to divulge the relevant information on the physical or financial performance of their business to a group of fellow farmers. Use of such case studies from top performing businesses is a good way of highlighting best practice whilst always being aware of the need to deliver the message in an empathetic manner and ensure such targets are attainable for the majority.
The scope and coverage of such knowledge exchange work could be widened and deepened by developing a knowledge exchange programme where by producers receive financial support for attending a programme of events and contribute data to the programme.
The financial performance of cattle farms will improve as a result of improved efficiencies and greater confidence leading to investment in the future of these businesses. By establishing a network of knowledge transfer and knowledge exchange initiatives group working will become a habit for an increasing number of farmers and the initiative will drive itself over time.
Increase access to, and financial support for those attending and contributing information to, industry led knowledge transfer groups through the continuation and development of existing community led initiatives such as the highly successful Monitor Farm Programme, the Planning for Profit Initiative, the Business Improvement Groups and the QMS Grazing Groups.