Thursday, May 23, 2013
Co-operation between farm advisors
Dutch farmers are lucky. Distances are short and every farmer has the availability of many advisors from various sources at a relatively short distance. There is, however, not much co-operation between advisors. I was invited to give a presentation on a "flash-meeting" of the Dutch society for Agricultural Advisors (VAB) on the topic of co-operation between farm advisors. The idea was to give a short presentation and use this as starting point for discussion. Not too many participants were allowed in order to make discussion possible. My presentation was entitled: "Increasing the profitability of herd production programs". The slides are available on slideshare.
The idea of my presentation was that there are three main groups of advisors on Dutch (dairy) farms: the veterinarian (in herd health programs and occasionally when there are health problems), the feed advisor and the economic advisor. Their knowledge overlaps, vets do know their thing about feed ratios and feed in relation to milk production, while economic advisors have a quite generic knowledge of the dairy farm. Besides knowledge on feed, feed advisors also have a generic knowledge about farming. Sometimes the advisors feel competition from the others, which might prevent co-operation. Moreover, most of the Dutch feed advisors are paid by the feed companies. Their advises are "free" (you pay them with the feed of course), while the other advisors have to be paid per hour.
I have presented a couple of cases where each of the advisors could, from their point of view, give different advises for the same topic, and these advises might even contradict.
We quickly agreed that co-operation between advisors is needed in order to improve the profitability of advises. We also agreed that it is the farmer who needs to direct these different advises. However, we are afraid that our dairy farmers are not (yet) good in that task. We do have some data (not published yet, if it is published I will let you know) that shows that in the relation between the dairy farmer and their veterinary advisor all kinds of things go wrong. The vet does overestimate the capabilities of the dairy farmer to ask questions and to take the lead. Well, if we know that that might happen, we should account for it. There might even be a role for one of the team of advisors to coach a farmer in this work. In our opinion, the advising team should meet, under direction of the farmer, to set goals for the coming one or two years. Those goals can be on production level, herd seize, health status, etc. Besides these goals a plan should be made how to reach the goals. The advising team should agree upon these goals and work in their coming individual visits on those goals. The farmer (maybe in co-operation with one advisor who coaches him/her on it) has to keep the team in good place and follow the progress of the plan.
We were lucky that one of the participants had experience in coaching farmers to take the lead in setting up an advisor team. He was very enthusiastic and has had great successes using this approach. Although not all efforts succeeded, but most did. One example really stood out. This was in the 25 % worst performing farms (economically) and is now in the 25 % best performing farms. Wow, advise can be profitable.
The challenge is to show this and to make the value of farm advise visual. That is a matter of marketing and we might learn a lot from ordinary business consultants in this.