Mike Brady: Good planning will deliver a work-life balance regardless of how busy you are


Agricultural consultant, Mike Brady.
Agricultural consultant, Mike Brady.
Mike Brady

Mike Brady

At the start of every year there are endless media guides on how best to set your goals and plan the years ahead.

Common sense (which we know is not very common) and countless studies show that to be successful in achieving goals or dreams, it is imperative to have a plan. We've all heard the saying "if you fail to plan, you plan to fail". So why do so few farmers have written farm business plans?

I believe farmers are completely turned off by the prospect of spending hours in front of a computer either alone or with their consultant/advisor. They don't like trawling through pages of spreadsheets to come up with one figure to see if they will have a surplus or deficit of cash in the years ahead.

Farmers in general are outdoor people - they like to walk the land, view the livestock or crops and discuss the merits of this system or that system.

Consultants and advisors sometimes forget this fact, which can result in the farmer disliking the planning process.

In fact, a farm business plan should never be prepared without walking the land and viewing the livestock or crops.

The first time a business plan is prepared with a farmer by a consultant/advisor, there will be lots of questions for the farmer to answer so the time must be put in, but as a relationship builds up between consultant/advisor and the farmer, this process becomes faster and more time-efficient. The availability of online information on farms also helps speed up the process.

There are three areas for a farmer to consider when preparing a farm business plan; a) physical plan b) financial plan and c) a personal plan:

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Physical Plan

The physical plan is the part most farmers enjoy - how many acres needed, how many cows can be milked or what is the crop rotation to meet greening requirements.

Farmers generally have the physical plan already worked out in their heads. The role of the consultant/advisor is to oversee whether it is realistic or not.

Key Performance Indices (KPIs) for the various enterprises are critical to accurate physical planning, i.e. historical milk and crop yields, etc.

Financial Plan

When farmers hear of a farm business plan, the financial plan usually flashes into their minds.

Memories of adding up reams of figures to get the farm plan assignment in agricultural college to work, or attempting to do a farm plan alone for a KT discussion group are usually negative experiences. At the end of the day, a financial plan will see if you have a surplus or deficit of cash for the next 12 months.

For best results, it is probably best to leave the accounting to the accountant, the planning to the consultant/adviser and the farming to the farmer.

Personal Plan

A personal plan -most farmers would ask, what is that? Perhaps this is the missing ingredient in the planning process.

A personal plan focuses and plans your 'me time'. We currently hear about the labour crisis on Irish farms, especially dairy farms. Some dairy farmers have expanded cow numbers after the removal of milk quotas without thinking about themselves and planning their downtime. They have done the physical and financial planning, but have no personal plan, some are sinking under the workload.

Cow numbers, net profit and increasing net worth are all important to an ambitious farmer, but they are only one side of the equation of life and running a farm business.

For a business to run smoothly, the farmer must have downtime and personal treats so to speak.

Sport is always a good barometer on which to judge a balanced plan, GAA, rugby and soccer teams put in the hard yards on the training ground and in the gym in preparation for the big games.

However, they also have their nights out and sunshine trips abroad under the guise of team bonding sessions, which they are, but they also facilitate enjoyment and something to look forward to as a reward for all the hard work.

Farming is no different. For better farm business performance, it is important to have personal goals and treats.

These goals could be for the farmer alone. It could be a trip the rugby World Cup or the Melbourne Cup horse race. They could also be family orientated where the entire family takes a one-off trip to see Australia or a father and son or daughter travel away together. The benefit of such trips and life events are unquantifiable.

The key to good farm business planning is to have a well thought out physical, financial and personal plan. Engage the relevant professionals to help you write your plan, then get on the computer and book that trip you have been putting off for years.

Mike Brady is managing director at Brady Group: Agricultural Consultants & Land Agents, email: mike@bradygroup.ie.

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