Farmer discussion groups drive business improvement

Tuesday, 30 April 2019

Farmer to farmer learning sits at the very core of our activities, and the reason is simple, it works.

AHDB’s arable business groups are a way to get farmers to benchmark their business figures, discuss them openly, and then make changes that actually improve their bottom line. They have been such a success we are now rolling out more such groups, called business improvement groups, to get more farmers on board.

Easter Ross farmer Donald Ross had no idea just how helpful he would find the business group when he joined five years ago.

He says: “The arable business group has been very good. We discuss, for instance, whether we are paying too much for insurance, repair bills, or fertiliser, and we compare and contrast.

“Although our information is confidential, we agreed to share our figures just with our small group. That means that rather than being an insular farmer sitting on the top of a hill, I can use Farmbench to see into other people's businesses and compare and contrast to see what situation I am in.”

Farming can be a lonely business too, and a business improvement group can give a real sense of camaraderie.

“When you've got six, eight, 10 people around a table, discussing costs and really opening up and having a good chat about it, you become friends and you will end up telling them your most innermost secrets.” Donald said.

The groups are facilitated by AHDB, and for Benchmarking Manager Doreen Anderson, being involved educates her, as much as the farmers.

“Listening to farmers challenge each other, support each other, discuss ideas for improving their businesses is amazing,” Doreen said. “I learn as much from them as they do from me, it really is a two way thing, between the farmers individually, and between AHDB and the farmers.”

Aberdeenshire farmer Peter Chapman has had a similar experience with business improvement groups.

“The farmer-to-farmer discussion is where you will find out how to make the tweaks that will improve your business,” he says. “Farmbench is critical because we spend about two hours going through the figures to understand where the differences are between us and what the trends are from one operation to the next.

“You get your group average so you can see whether your figures are near the top or the bottom but the most useful aspect for me is the dialogue that follows the figures.”

While Peter realises being open with business figures isn’t something farmers are always comfortable with, he believes it is well worth any short-lived awkwardness.

“Some people might be reluctant to share information, others might be put off by the time it takes to input the data,” he said. “Yes there is some work involved but once you’ve done it once it gets easier and there are always people at AHDB who are there to help you if need it.

“There’s not a business on the face of the planet that wouldn’t benefit from benchmarking, or from joining a Business Improvement Group.”

Interested in joining a local business group? Contact Doreen Anderson at to find out more.

This article is taken from the Spring/Summer 2019 edition of All About Scotland. 

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