My friend Claire Booth from Australia shared a photo of her farm office referring to it as the “engine room” of their business.
I like that analogy and am conscious of the fact that we all run with an engine and without that source of power or way of moving forward, we stay in one place.
Claire and her husband run a large, diverse and award-winning farm. I am not going to reflect on her farm but borrow on her analogy of the engine of a farm. An engine is the central point in the farming enterprise and that engine room is a space where certain ‘parts’ should reside, such as respect, a business plan, a financial plan, a safety plan, fuel, and an owner’s manual.
The owner’s manual may define the person or people and their social purpose. It is like the purpose statement of a company. It could read: ‘We believe in soil, grass, family and freedom and that we contribute to our local and global community through the production of safe food.’
I am borrowing words but your driver’s manual may have key words like commit, community, believe, and trust, to define why you get up in the morning and start your engine.
The business plan determines how that engine runs. It is like the vision and mission statement of a farm combined. The vision says what you will do and the mission says how you might do this. Borrowing from and building on the statement above, the vision might read: ‘As a family we respect each other and use the grass we have been gifted and that we have cared for to produce safe beef for our community and our world.’
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Going forward takes us down the road to the mission statement which, if we continue along the lines of the original purpose, may read: ‘We combine our individual gifts and work with nature to grow feed and build the soil for future generations and with our best production practices and careful handling of beef cattle, create a safe, auditable and delicious product that is sold both locally and available for export.’ It could be wheat, milk, blueberries, or radishes — the principles are the same. Those plans introduce how you will feed into achieving the vision and purpose.
I would suspect that this sounds a wee bit repetitive but then so is the servicing of an engine. The same steps, starting with checking the oil, are repeated every day.
It does not hurt to remind ourselves why we do what we do — and not get caught up in idling along without purpose.
Revving an engine without putting the transmission in gear or without putting tires on the wheels is like operating without a mandate. This is the ‘how to’ of the farm.
It will be complex and every activity will feed into the purpose, vision, and mission. A mandate will have specific instructions for each task and will measure that task against a benchmark, either internal or external.
A mandate in this simple example may include the type of grass, legumes, brassicas, and so on that are used in the planting of the land; the rotation; the use of nutrients and how they are applied; the protection of water and continued availability of that water. It may include the fencing; the kind of animal and why; the health and handling protocols; the parameters for the beef and those specifications; the temperature of the cooler; and the target markets. It may include the company logo; the packaging; the contacts; who is responsible for each area; how progress will be measured and reported back; how profit will be reinvested; long- and short-term projections; human resource requirements and training; equipment required with cost of purchase and operating and standard operating procedures for that equipment; and so on.
Determining how profits will be spent is important.
Is there a growth strategy or will funds be invested in technology, training and education, urban real estate, or travel? All are of value and if everyone in the engine room knows the reason for and purpose of that engine, then the risk of engine failure, getting stuck, or facing extensive costs are mitigated.
Things do go wrong and a safety plan can help with that.
Safe handling of livestock may be one area of safety yet there are many more parts such as insurance, headgear, market research, communication, maintenance, boundaries, biosecurity, disease identification, time allotment to do each task, and first aid for all, are a few examples. It has to be a respectful and safe place to turn that engine on or someone ends up hurt; physically or emotionally.
When we fuel up in the morning it is important to do so with a sense of curiosity and wonderment, and to start that engine in which the parts are so carefully defined and maintained in our farm family and office.