Jamie Symington, of 100 year old family business L. Symington Farms in West Norfolk, is a big believer in benchmarking.

“I wanted to see where my costs could be. One of the disadvantages we have in the business we run is that we do a lot of vegetables and so a lot of our costs and not related to cereals. I figured these joint venture guys, with simpler cereal-only businesses, would have much lower costs and so they have to be the base that I have to get to. I wanted to see how far away I was from where I could possibly be.

Mind the gap

There was a big gap. But the important thing is to ask ‘Why are their costs less than our costs?’. Now I’m pleased to say that the gap is less than it was. When we JVFG members have our meetings it’s quite light-hearted in many ways but at the heart of it is the serious matter of what we can do to make our costs more comparable with each other. I enjoy the banter between us all. The banter is what makes the thing tick. We have figures but to understand what is within those figures you really have to talk about it – you can’t drill down until you talk.

Making change for the better

We’ve changed our cultivation techniques, changed the way and how often we buy our machinery (others in the group were keeping their machines longer) and also changed our labour efficiency. Everything we do on the farm now is allocated: the chaps on the farm cannot do anything that is not allocated. We never used to operate on that basis so huge chunks of time were ‘nothing-ed’.In  workshop was a favourite. Now everything everyone does has to be allocated to a machine or a crop.

Team takes joint venture farming seriously

I think we’ve increased the team’s sense of responsibility of what they do. They know that all this stuff they write on their time sheets is relevant. My men are interested to know how efficient they are and how they are performing compared to other teams on other farms.We talk about all those things. Some things we can’t do anything about. We don’t treat all the information we gather as a threat. We treat it as information that will help us to get better in business.

Advice on how to lower costs

The main thing I advise others is that you must be able to analyse your costs and compare them with other peoples’ costs in order to see how you are doing. The challenge is that there is a bit of effort involved in getting the information but if you want to know your costings properly then I think this is something you just need to be doing. I’m always amazed there are not more people champing at the bit to get involved with the Joint Venture Farming Group. I was looking for something to help my farming when I saw a piece about them in Farmers Weekly. I did not need to be persuaded. I needed to persuade them to let me become a part of it! I’m always amazed there aren’t more people like me looking for a way to cut costs because here it is: benchmarking with the JVFG.”