New research has revealed what the country's highest-performing farmers all have in common: an ability to adapt.
With severe weather, COVID-19 and an increasing amount of regulations, it's been a tough run for sheep and beef farmers this year.
But a new study by UMR Research, commissioned by the Red Meat Profit Partnership (RMPP), has found farmers faring the best in these challenging situations are those who "do not blindly follow trends", but instead continue to tweak their practices to "suit both their style of farming and the environment they operate in".
The study built on research conducted in 2015, which identified the critical characteristics farmers had that enabled them to consistently achieve good results.
Researchers interviewed 29 high-performing farmers in 2015 and 22 this year. They looked at what had changed for these farmers - looking at the challenges they were facing, in particular - and how they responded to the issues compared to five years ago.
The study found consistency of execution, attention to detail and measuring and recording performance were all critical to achieving top results in sheep and beef farms.
The high-performing farmers also tended to have a strong focus on addressing environmental challenges through quality assurance programmes.
Malcolm Bailey, chairman of RMPP, said the study showed the most successful farmers were able to adapt to changing conditions.
"These farmers do not blindly follow trends, rather when they introduce new practices, they tweak them to suit both their style of farming and the environment they operate in.
"High-performing farmers, through a strong sense of self-awareness, are particularly good at translating their values or what’s important to them into a 'style of farming' that is profitable and sustainable for the environment they occupy."
A number of those taking part in the study said additional regulations introduced recently had led to a negative public perception of farming. Many said they wanted to take ownership of this issue by showing the public how they farm, particularly in regards to animal welfare and the environment.
Among the practices recommended for farmers were:
- using technology to target inputs more efficiently, especially fertiliser and animal health interventions
- making early decisions to pre-empt the loss of stock and pasture condition using an in-depth knowledge of their farm and animals via close observation over many years. These observations are almost always recorded, generally via technology, but also in some cases via extensive handwritten diary notes
- having a clear picture of the three to five aspects of their farm that drive performance and almost always getting these right
- investing in quality infrastructure (over time), as the consequences of not doing so, are a distraction from focusing on what is most important - animals and grass
- making sure they are alert to what is happening on the farm by remaining physically close to pasture and animals. While planning and office work are important, more money can be lost if farmers are not continually observing what is happening on the farm
- always paying close attention to both stock and pasture and being prepared to more regularly shift animals. This means focusing on trying to balance both pasture and stock condition throughout the year
- working alongside other well-regarded farmers, rural professionals, and family members to test and tweak ideas and find new ones.