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Be proactive; hire a farm manager

BY CAROLINE MWENDWA

If you don’t incur the costs of paying a productive farm manager, you will incur that of failure due to poor management

In every area of farming, managing the process is a critical need. Farm Manager 2018, a game that is built around the farm and its management reveals the intricacies of making decisions as a farmer and more so an agripreneuer. This multifaceted game presents the player with various occasions to make decisions beginning with the type of crop to grow or animal to rear and planting timing; which will then determine the season of harvest, whether to incur costs of labour and other farm inputs and so on. Indulging in this game can be intriguing but even more the discovery that a decision can either be too costly or highly lucrative. This leads to the question of skills to consider when hiring a farm manager. At a time when the potential of agribusiness is being embraced even by those in formal employment, hiring the right farm manager is paramount in achieving the desired results. 

Data shows that small holder farmers lack access to loans and financing from financial institutions partly because they lack tangible backup such as farm records on sales to show their stability. As such, skilled labour even at the lowest level of agricultural practice is essential as it determines the businesses potential for growth. 

The relevance of a farm manager therefore remains for any farmer who either resides away from the farm, or is preoccupied as to not accord enough time to farming and yet wants to venture in agribusiness. While technology can help automate some procedures, a skilled farm manager is a resource that cannot be replaced by any technology installation, yet one that can easily be overlooked. 

Things to consider when hiring a farm managerager

According to Milton. E. Bliss a communication specialist in Agriculture and author of A Handbook on Farm Broadcasting for the Developing Countries, a farm manager integrates information from the biological, physical, and social sciences. This means that a farm manager draws on agricultural economics for information on prices, markets, policy, and economic institutions; plant and animal sciences and on psychology and sociology for information on human behaviour which is crucial in hiring farm workers. 

This shows how deliberate one should be when hiring for this position. Remember hiring a manager means that you have goals to monetise the farm. This may sometimes mean that what was once a hobby will now be under somebody else, a decision that causes a change of purpose; from a hobby to a revenue generating activity. It also means trusting a more skilled person to run the farm on another level of expertise, with an intention to tie the loose ends and make higher profits. 

Mistakes people make when hiring a farm manager

Scott Anderson, a farm strategy consultant and developer of Cash cow, a software that empowers farmers to master the business side of farming by knowing real-time field-by-field productivity and profitability, enlists three mistakes that people make when hiring farm managers. One is hiring close friends and family. Often, in a bid to cut costs and look benevolent, people working on a full-time basis and looking to venture into agribusiness on a farm in their rural areas will automatically pick one person, most probably a family member to run the farm on their behalf. They forget that a business ought to be strategic and requires a level of structuring. Sadly, the relationship between the farm owner and the ‘friend’ comes between the farmer and his business goals for the farm. As a result, the small venture dies before it is even established and so does the agriprenuer’s interest in agribusiness.

Another mistake, he says, is not setting expectations in time. The work of a farm manager could mean few hours of sleep and sometimes having to undertake tedious manual tasks, hire people and lead them through decisions that are meant to lead to profitability, which in some cases flops. Preparing the farm manager beforehand on the conditions of work and what is expected of them will keep them goal oriented and not manage the farm on a knee jerk reaction basis.

Finally, the need to interview candidates for the job kick starts the project with a level of seriousness that is likely to reflect on the performance and ultimately on the productivity of the farm. An interview provides the farm owner with an opportunity to hire the best skill and attitude for the job. Not conducting interviews before hiring is therefore a misstep. 

Harnessing on technology 

In the recent past, various mobile apps have been invented to assist in farm activities.  Just like many other sectors, agriculture has undergone a myriad of transitions in the hands of technology. Be it dairy farming, poultry keeping, bee keeping or even crop farming, there is an aspect of technology in each of these areas that has either brought about convenience in farming or expedited the supply chain process. Apps like Cowsoko for instance, have been highly instrumental in linking buyers and suppliers of dairy cattle; digifarm makes it easier for counties and national government to source vital data for planning and resource allocation, among others. Hiring a versatile manager who is adaptive to new technologies will help develop a digital strategy for the farm and leverage on it to maximise profits.

Caroline Mwendwa is the Editor, Management Magazine. Email: cmwendwa@kim.ac.ke

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