We’re ready for the challenge

It is a common perception that farmers want to buy something for nothing. If the suppliers of inputs decided that this model was acceptable to them then the ongoing challenges to recruit and develop high-calibre people into the supply chain would be solved overnight. However, the bankruptcy of British Farming plc would surely follow.

As necessity is the mother of invention, then the need for profit drives innovation within the supply chain, which ultimately leads to global competitive advantage for our farming industry. Progress is driven and delivered by people; companies are differentiated by their people. The stark truth is that there is a real shortage of good people and it is only going to get worse.

There is proof that profit in the supply chain can benefit farming. One of our clients, ProCam, demonstrates that its customers benefit from nearly 1t/ha wheat yield over the national average – this rises to more than 2t/ha for their top 25% of customers. Interestingly, the yield difference is increasing against a stagnating UK average. To prosper as a business they have to deliver tangible value and this ability comes back firmly to the quality of their people.

The demographic problem can be traced back to the 1970s and 1980s when farming was good, agriculture attracted talent and the universities were crammed with bright young things destined for great futures with companies such as Fisons, ICI, Dalgety, BOCM, Pauls Agriculture, UAM, and KW.

Over the following decades agriculture suffered continual recession, companies morphed and/or consolidated, the weaker being acquired by the stronger, with the most recent example being the breakup of Countrywide. Fewer employers meant fewer needs and these were filled by the bright young things that were still bright but becoming not so young.

Over-consolidation of the supply chain creates opportunity for new players. A great example is Zantra, one of the fastest growing national agrochemical distributors. It has recognised a gap in the market and is providing an attractive platform for employees and customers alike.

Today farming has a very mature demographic, with the supply chain mirroring the rest of the industry. The upside is that employers can no longer see a 55-year-old as spent; they see experience and the removal of a succession issue for another 10-15 years. Investment is going into a younger generation – however the educational establishments that diversified through the bad times are not producing sufficient quantities of appropriately qualified individuals to feed the specific industry needs. As specialist recruiters within the agricultural supply sector, operating over the past 25 years, we have experienced phenomenal changes. The increasing pressure faced by employers has driven significant uplift in our business and we see this as continuing throughout 2015 as there is no imminent panacea. The input required to identify and attract upper quartile people has also increased. Good people are valued by good employers and the number of bad employers are thankfully, through market forces, reducing.

There are many routes available to employers looking for the right people and vice versa. But there is one truth that cannot be ignored: real recruitment success takes time, investment and planning; the best people have a choice of where they work.