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Cousins working together on our family owned farm with the aim of running a commercial modern farm producing high yielding, high standard crops while maximising wildlife diversity. Brian is said to be the farmer and conservationist, whereas Patrick is a conservationist and farmer. This mix has given a new direction for the farm, building upon the work that our fathers and grandfather has done to improve the overall success of the farm business. The farm has gone from strength to strength with the farm being recognised at a national level winning the coveted National FWAG’s Silver Lapwing Award for farming and conservation in 2009 and then Patrick and Brian were named Countryside Farmer of the Year by the Farmers Weekly in 2010.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Trips to Warwick Castle, DHL, Land Rover & LEAF

This cow had an itch so how does she scratch it? 

It made us chuckle while we had a trip away from the farm last week.

The sun has been shining and the farm is looking good but, yes, I wouldn’t be a farmer without a quick moan about the weather, so I will get it in now……RAIN, PLEASE RAIN!! The freshly drilled spring crops need a good soaking, as do all the winter crops.  Our heavy soils still look strong but if we don’t get a downpour soon, the plants will start to show signs of drought stress and this would mean a drop on yield and quality. I have already heard reports of over-stressed crops on the lighter soils on the coast.  We will have to keep our fingers crossed but then, knowing the British weather, once rain starts it probably won’t stop!
Patrick and I have enjoyed this sunny weather as we have been out around the farm seeing the new arrivals of spring but we have also been on the road for a few trips in the last couple of weeks.
Warwick Castle for lunch was the first outing.  We were invited by Farmers Weekly for a winners’ luncheon.  Back in October, we were lucky enough to be awarded the title of Farmers Weekly Countryside Farmer of the Year.  This lunch was an opportunity for all the winners to meet each other again and talk about what it has meant to their businesses, as well as meeting the Farmers Weekly team and Sponsors of all the awards.  We did get collared with a video interview; clips are being published on the Farmers Weekly website.  If you want to see more, go to http://www.fwi.co.uk/video/fwiawards/.
It was a really enjoyable day and nice to meet the guys from NWF Agriculture who are next year’s sponsors for our category.  We will be joining them when we judge this year’s entries in June and are both looking forward to the judging experience, as it will be nice to have the boot on the other foot and ask all the leading questions that we have answered before when we have been judged!
Then, a week later, we were bombing back up the A14 and M6 for another visit. This time we had been invited to have a look behind the scenes of DHL Supply Chain at the Land Rover Factory in Solihull. We had been invited as part of a new discussion group, called ‘26/46’, being run collectively by Farmers Guardian, DHL Supply Chain, Lloyds TSB & Bank of Scotland and Waitrose.  It has been set up to bring the next generation of farmers together to bridge the gap between Young Farmers and future responsibilities like  NFU, Agricultural Societies etc.  We met up with eight farmers: two livestock farmers from Carlisle, two arable and two mixed farmers from Stamford as well as the editor of the Farmers Guardian and two representatives from DHL Supply Chain.     
The general manager of DHL Supply Chain at the Land Rover Factory took us through everything that DHL have done to help Land Rover become more efficient and streamlined in the production of their vehicle range. DHL are responsible for the delivery of all the parts to the factory as well as the distribution of the parts from pallet to individual stations on the production line. In total, the GM was managing 630+ employees (60% employed by DHL and 40% sourced from agencies), 1332 inbound deliveries of 4591 parts (with some parts having a set of, in some cases, 16 different derivatives of the same part) to produce 130,000 Land Rover vehicles a year, all of which are already sold once they drop off the production line.  At the factory, they only have enough space to store 0.9 days worth of stock and another day’s worth will already be en route to the factory for delivery in the next 24hrs: basically, a logistical nightmare!
We had a guided tour of the Discovery and Range Rover Sport production lines. This was a real eye opener:  forklifts flying back and forth, or, as they described them, ‘the Big Yellow and Red Monsters’, dragging Land Rover up to speed. They explained how, due to the number of buy-outs that had occurred with the Land Rover Brand over the past few years, that it has had a massive bearing on the efficiency of the production line. There had been no capital investments into anything and it showed.  Energy efficiency was poor, the Solihull site electricity bill being over £75million per year.  This works out at £600 per vehicle made. No green measures are in place – a real oversight, considering the acres of building roofs that are left unutilised for solar power, rainwater collection, wind turbines etc. The logistics and parts coordination is still done on a paper and button system, much to DHL’s dismay. When a car is being put together and rolled along the production line, the spec of that vehicle is just a paper print-out taped to the chassis and workers on the line have to refer to this to make sure they put the correct customer options on!  When a station is running short of parts, it hits a button on the wall that triggers a DHL forklift to bring them more of that part.  DHL explained that with the computer system they run for other car producers they could barcode and organise the whole system to eliminate any human error of reading the spec and part number sheet and anyone forgetting to hit the parts replenishing button in good time etc. this would reduce the numbers of employees needed, reduce the forklift fleet and reduce the ‘misfits’, which is when the wrong part is fitted to the wrong car.
It will be interesting to see if Land Rover introduces this new system.  They are in the middle of a complete production line review and overhaul that may see one line completely move site, as the demand for the vehicles does not reduce, even in the current greening climate of everyone trying to reduce their carbon footprints – interesting, considering the 5 litre Petrol V8’s that are being sent out in some of the Range Rover Sports!
After the tour of the factory, we all came together for an open discussion on what we had seen and if there was anything that we could take away and implement in our businesses. I think all of us had taken something away from the visit.  The need to keep technology up to speed and not be scared to invest in new technology came up as well as a number of points. Communication was another well used word. DHL were striving to communicate better with their customer, Land Rover, as well as communicating better with their own employees and the employees on the production line. We could appreciate the need to understand also what benefits could be gained from out-sourcing the best and most precise help from other specialised companies, so that the core of your business is not compromised but improved. It was a really interesting visit and we look forward to the next planned trip later this year.
A day later, after a few beers in the evening, we attended an Integrated Farm Management Technical Day, hosted by LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming) at Harper Adams Agricultural College. The day looked at how farmers can adopt new techniques and science to maximise their profits from crop and livestock enterprises without impacting on the environment. We looked at anaerobic digestate (biofertiliser) for improved soil quality, integration  of specific wildlife habitat into a farming system, sustainable irrigation, reduced environmental impact from pig production, reducing the carbon ‘hoof’ print of dairy cows, choosing the right cultivation technique related to soil condition, assessing river conditions on your farm and how to host a successful farm visit.
It was a thought-provoking day, especially looking at different areas of farming that we do not have to worry about on a day to day basis, related to the livestock side of the industry. It was also reassuring to hear in the other areas that were discussed, that Patrick and I are already implementing all of the techniques but we also came away with some new tweaks to the techniques that we could try to use.
LEAF is an organisation with which we have recently become involved.  They do a lot of good work with farmers to educate and implement wildlife techniques on a farm scale. They have a network of demonstration farms throughout the country, which they see as delivering this message and use them to host and organise visits. We have been asked to become one of these demonstration farms and are currently going through the process of application. We met one of the demonstration farmers on the day who is also a keen Blogger: Jake Freestone is the farm manager at Overbury farms in Worcestershire, he farms sheep and arable, so check out his blog:  http://farmerjakef.blogspot.com/
All in all three very interesting trips that has got us thinking on how we can improve our own farm business in more ways than one…..maybe a V8 Range Rover! BWB

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