What if businesses behaved more like farmers?

I’m a habitual listener to “farming today” first thing every day. I have enormous respect for farmers, who have to deal with more external interference than any other sector I can think of.

Apart from the natural perils of weather and disease, they have geopolitical regulation issues and national government legislation from health and safety to the environment. The majority have the challenge of the uncertainty being tenant farmers. They make some of the lowest incomes in the country. Despite all that, they wouldn’t do anything else. Their sense of stewardship, their concern for the next generation, and the way they care for their land and animals puts the average business to shame.

Perhaps it has to do with the weather that comes their way that, despite the traditional grumbling, they have no choice other than to deal with challenges as something to be dealt with as it is. After all, you can’t lobby the weather.

This morning’s discussion was around the challenges of free-range and organic farming. To make it work commercially requires wholesale, genuine, externally monitored changes. They do not use artificial fertilisers (Bonuses?), pesticides (HR?) and adopt “no dig” soil preservation (no consultants?) whilst addressing government requirements to manage land for the benefit of the community (no “greenwash”).

Process and market innovation seem to come from the medium-sized and smaller farmers, whilst the larger farms seem to benefit more from tax and subsidy management. I appreciate that this is a subjective view; however, I have been listening to the programme daily for a couple of decades. I talk regularly with those involved in the sector and think there is some substance to this. The comparison of behaviours with the corporates and SME is not a difficult leap.

Perhaps the aspect I respect most is their groundedness. Farmers cannot move the land they work or move production somewhere lower cost. The land they work and the animals they manage are their income, and care for them comes ahead of cash flow and balance sheet fluctuations. They are a model of stoicism – dealing with today in the context of tomorrow.

There is a danger that this begins to sound like some romantic notion. It’s not – there are plenty of examples of bad farmers (although they tend to be exposed earlier than bad businesses). The main point is that they have to deal with what is happening, where they are and with what they’ve got, and live with their efforts. That has my respect.

If businesses thought and behaved like farmers rather than hunters, we might find ourselves having an altogether different conversation.

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