How one dairy farmer went from an employee to farm manager and business partner

Chris North has made an impressive journey from an employee with ARC Farming to becoming a manager and business partner within the business.

At this week’s LIC (Livestock Improvement Corporation) Pasture to Profit Conference 2018 in Birmingham, he outlined his journey.

A graduate of Harper Adams, he highlighted that it was always going to be a career in farming, although not coming from an immediate farming background.

Since his graduation in 2011, he worked for Adam Boley and Richard and Chris Norman at ARC Farming near Tetbury in Gloucestershire.

However, Chris has since progressed his career and gone into business with ARC Farming; a 25-year tenancy has allowed this to happen.

The goal is to milk 350 cows under an organic system on a 240ha block. Chris gave his views on: What makes a good manager; what makes a good employee; and why it is important to invest in people in order to retain them in the industry.

What makes a good manager?

Chris stressed that setting goals for both the managers and employees is crucial, and making sure all goals are aligned together so that both parties know what they want to achieve.

“This allowed us to understand each other a lot better; they were always keen to put me on courses that benefited me and the business,” he said.

“It wasn’t just a case of ‘here is the farm’, and every time something went wrong, say: ‘Why didn’t you do it like this?’ It was a case of discussing it first and letting me run with it myself.

“It was these short discussions that made the difference. I always found the daily catch ups with my manager – Adam – very motivating,” Chris explained.

Chris also highlighted how Adam and the team were open and honest about the Arc Farming’s philosophy and what they were trying to achieve.

“They were willing to let me work independently to analyse, research and implement changes. One project I was involved in was working out milk solids versus live weight in order to achieve the percentage efficiency.”

The enthusiastic dairy farmer also outlined how he was always thanked and recognised for his hard work on a daily basis.

What makes a good employee?

Speaking from an employee point of view, Chris stressed that the ability to work on your own initiative and the openness to new ideas is very important.

“We want our business to develop and progress, but you need people within that to do the same,” he explained.

Touching on communication, he said: “Communication is everything. It doesn’t matter whether you are a relief milker or herd manager – or anywhere in between – that standard of work needs to be high; we need to be at the top of our game.”

Chris also highlighted enthusiasm as an important trait in an employee.

Investing in people

Continuing, Chris said: “ARC Farming paid for me to go to New Zealand on a Positive Farmers tour, which I got a huge amount out of and met a number of inspirational people.

“They were very good operators and very interesting people and highly inspirational; I got a lot out of it. I also got a lot from farmers – who were not from farming backgrounds – running joint ventures.

“Three other people from within our business have now also travelled to New Zealand. I think that foreign travel and the ability to learn from other people are both important,” he added.

LIC

ARC Farming takes on a lot of work experience and vet students. This is something that Chris highlighted as being very important for both the business and the students.

I have had three students this year already and I always make sure that I give them the time to explain why we do things.

“I want them to understand the full business and why we do it the way we do; they might be the next person that comes and works for us,” he explained.

Making the switch to management

Chris uses his experience of working as an employee with ARC Farming when it comes to management and has adopted some key management styles.

On this, he said: “We need to know what drives people. If we know how people work, then we can motivate them very quickly.

I find communication the big one. Things change on an hourly basis and if you don’t keep people in the loop, they can soon get annoyed.

“One of the big things we do is, when we walk the grass, we all do it together. It’s a great way to discuss everything we are doing and also discuss the grass; if there is a problem with residuals, you can talk about it there and then.”

Continuing, he said: “Regular catch ups during the day are important. Providing training, discussion groups and courses are also very important; being able to go out and speak to people that are doing the same job motivates them.

“I also take the time to say thank you for a job well done everyday,” he concluded.