Winter jobs are well and truly underway, as always the list is long and never seems to be quite completed. This year’s priorities include a little hedge planting; some hedge cutting, as every hedge planted does in time need managing; digging out ditches to reduce wet muddy soils in the fields; and, the main project this December is to clean out a pond.

We have several ponds around the farm. Over the years leaf litter and silt build up in ponds. By removing this, it gives the pond a new lease of life, creating a freshwater environment for everything from bugs, newts, and dragonflies, to drinking holes for passing birds and mammals. When cleaning ponds, it is important to create different depths of water, creating different habitats in this mini ecosystem. It is also ideal to have some of the banks steep, providing shelter for nesting birds from predators and other areas of the bank, leading gently to the water’s edge, so mammals can access a drink.

As the workload on the farm slows down for winter, farmers can often be found getting together at meetings to exchange ideas. This is an important part of any industry, although with agriculture most businesses are not in direct competition with each other, which can allow for honest probing conversations, where the participants can really gain from each other’s experiences.

This year I have been looking at personal development and in particular, how I can improve my management skills. Farms tend to be isolated businesses, where the employer and his or her workforce may be the same person or a team of say two or three people. HR, payroll, marketing or IT departments do not generally exist on the average farm. As such, farmers, or indeed other small businesses, do not easily have access to develop their skills in how to manage people in their businesses. Such skills are not something you can readily read about in a book or learn at college or university, they are honed over years of experience, both learning from others, as well as making plenty of mistakes yourself.

I have realised over the years, and especially in the last few months, that successful businesses employee great people, give them clear roles and goals and then give them the tools and encouragement to get on with the job. I believe that a manager’s role is to make work rewarding for their employees. At a recent team meeting I even suggested that work can be fun, however judging by the look on their faces may be I was being a little too alternative as they wondered what I was going to say next.

Farming Diary

From LEAF Demonstration Farmer Duncan Farrington