“It’s time I got out of the cowshed. What is the best way to do this?”
Questions similar to this have often come up in my conversations with farmers. The information available tends to be fragmented, focuses on processes and procedures, and more often refers to family succession. While this information is relevant, more targeted information specific to farm owners employing sharemilkers for the first time is harder to find.
I undertook a literature review focusing on effective leadership in general then I refined my reading to specifically focus on leadership and governance in farming situations.
To gain an understanding of the topic from different perspectives, I carried out 9 semi- structured interviews, with three rural professionals, three dairy farm owners and three sharemilkers. I used the qualitative research method of thematic analysis to identify common themes that were identified as important for a successful change in a farming business structure.
As a result of reading relevant literature on leadership, and interviewing farmers and rural professionals who have experienced transitional farming situations, I believe there are four steps to consider before making such a change to your farming business.
The first step involves taking the time to consider why you want to take a step back and what life is going to look like once you have.
The second step is choosing the right people, who share in your vision, to become part of your farming business. It came through clearly in the interviews that attitude and compatibility are the very important.
Step three is about building a working relationship that is collaborative and long lasting. The ability to see things from the other person’s perspective and strong communication skills develops trust which then helps to facilitate the difficult task of delegating decision making.
The final step covers the advice, training, policies and procedures that are vital to ensuring clarity of roles and a smooth transition from day to day farm management to a governance role.
In my opinion to take a step back you need to step up. This involves becoming an effective leader and being surrounded by good people who share your vision.