JVFG is delighted to welcome another new member business to our benchmarking. It’s a business led by two agri-professionals with a strikingly ‘can-do’ approach to building and maintaining a thriving business with a highly-motivated team. So why have they joined JVFG?  

Their answer, shared by Farm Manager John Haynes (pictured right, above), reveals a great deal about the business and the vision and drive to be even better.

“You get to a point where – because we want to continue to improve – you need help from like-minded people. That’s what we want. Peter Collins (pictured left, above), one of the younger partners in the business, and I are both very switched on with data required for JVFG, so now’s the right time. We’re ready for it. And it’s why MJ and SC Collins, farming 3000 acres on the Essex-Hertfordshire border is the latest business to join JVFG.

Ambitious and forward-thinking – in reality, not just buzzwords

We’re ambitious and not afraid of challenges. For example, we’ve started growing soya beans. Rather than grow just a couple of fields of 20 acres we’ve gone all out and we are growing 200 hectares of them, we’re keen to give them a real chance – so decided to grow them for 5 consecutive years in an attempt to create a ‘fair test’.

JVFG - MJ and SC Collins have drainage determination.

No money down the drain with contractors.

We’ve started our own land drainage. Parts of the farm we bought recently were not performing as well as they should do, were wetter than they should be. They were WW2 airfields not drained in the periods of the grants because they were scared of all the concrete they might find. So, rather than haemorrhage money and pay a contractor to do it we set ourselves up and are doing it ourselves. Yes, we have found lots of concrete but, so far, we have drained 600 acres of farmland, the first land drained is now beginning to show results that prove our efforts are worthwhile.

Drained 600 acres so far with our equipment.

Drained 600 acres so far with our equipment.

‘Forward-thinking’ is a fashionable word but what does it actually mean? We have a 15-year replacement policy on our machinery. That’s forward-thinking. We’ve done our cropping for the next ten years. We’re planning our drainage for the 8-9 years. We’re planning staff development. We’re thinking about the future on the farm. And we’re trying to recognise changes on the horizon and adapt to them sooner rather than later we are big believers in the saying ‘if you fail to prepare, prepare to fail’.

We’re investing a lot at the minute in estate property development while we have still got BPS, for example. In 4 or 5 years’ time there may be none of that. We’re treating ourselves to sweets and ice cream while there is pocket money, again helping to prepare for times that may prove to be more difficult.

Benchmarking with the best

Farm businesses are hugely sensitive to sharing information. But with JVFG we can share information with similar ventures, and those that are totally different to us but still cultivate and harvest. We can think ‘wow, how can they do it for that much?’ or ‘wow, we’re doing pretty well on that’.

A confidence-building pat on the back for doing something really well is great. But so is getting an insight, for example on spraying, that another member is doing the same but with a different machine that is costing X amount less every year. It’s this sort of collaboration which is going to be the key to success in future.

JVFG benchmarking meeting

Learning from like-minded businesses at our first JVFG meeting

Our impression of our first JVFG meeting

You can go to a lot of benchmarking groups and you always get a couple of jokers that do not really bring much to the party. With JVFG, you are in a room with a good bunch of the guys all with the same no-nonsense, honest attitude and all serious, professional businessmen and farmers. Having known JVFG consultant Jamie Gwatkin for a long time I did not expect anything different. It’s a privilege to be part of that.

Data capture is key

JVFG benchmarking - maintenance and monitoring

Maintenance and monitoring for top performance

I think the data-recording and data-gathering is the most important bit and I was put in touch with Tim Merry who runs a very good excel spreadsheet. I’ve taken that and adapted it to suit us. I’ve started doing pie charts of hours and litres of fuel per machine and job etc – and it’s eye-opening.

In July, 22.5% of our guys’ time was spent irrigating. I knew we were doing a lot but actually – wow – a fifth of our time? Then you can sit down and say this is why we’re not getting this done is because we are spending time on that. But the irrigation will pay back: we’ve had our yield digs from British Sugar yesterday and the yields are promising to be fairly astronomical.

This is what I mean by being forward-thinking. We can say we’re spending this much time doing this. It’s costing us this.  Also, we can consider the opportunity cost. Could we be doing something else? We can then run the numbers and work out if we can we afford to get someone in to help us. If you can’t record it, you can’t manage it. Sometimes, looking back is the best way to move forward. There’s a reason why professional sport setups use video analysis, to analyse what they have done, drop the poor and increase the positive parts.

Recognising people power in our business

Fuelling the farm team at harvest time at MJ and SC Collins says JVFG member John Haynes

Fuelling the farm team at harvest time at MJ and SC Collins, is essential, says John Haynes.

It’s the people in the business that are our most valuable asset. We’re very fortunate that we have a very young team. I manage them as best I can and give them as much as responsibility as possible so that it comes to a point where I am almost not needed. We’re a way off that yet! But that is my management style.

Simple wish list: efficiency up and fixed costs down

I just want to improve everything. I know we can do better. I want to be able to do more, in less time and without breaking the bank in buying ridiculously expensive machinery.

I want to have the confidence to know when and what is the most appropriate cost of cultivating for wheat, for example. We all like lovely level, fine, lovely-looking seedbeds but aesthetics are luxurious but actually we can establish a good crop of wheat for this only this much money?

Ready for change

Call me naïve, but I think this is a very exciting time. There’s a lot of people who are subsidy-junkies and have only survived because of them and have no idea what it costs to do a job. I believe there are a lot of smaller farms who will think ‘I can’t do this anymore; I don’t want to do this anymore’ but they will still want to maintain some control and involvement in their farming.

For a business like ours (we own just shy of 3000 acres) and just starting some contracting land drainage, there’s a huge opportunity for our business to expand with contracting. So, I see a very exciting time coming up. Being part of the well-established JVFG is one of the pump-priming exercises that will allow us to pull the trigger immediately when opportunities arise in the future, as well as mix with like-minded people.”