Farmers Pool Non-Agricultural Skills To Improve Businesses

Six farmers in the Cambridgeshire area of UK, who all previously worked in careers outside agriculture, are sharing their non-farming skills to drive their businesses forward


They include arable, mixed and livestock farmers with previous professions in teaching, business consultancy, physiotherapy and the military.

Tom Martin, 38, who farms cereals with his father, initiated the group after returning to the family farm after 14 years in sales and business consultancy roles, including for Universal Pictures.

He sees the period before farming as “work experience” and says the skills he learnt have helped him with budgeting, building good relationships with his staff, and negotiations.

“We meet once a month and the idea is that we’ve got a lot to learn. None of us studied agriculture at college, so we get together to exchange ideas. If there’s something one person wants to go to, we all go so we can learn.”

The group, called “The Returners”, asked the UK’s agricultural levy board, AHDB, to benchmark their farms. Now they share their data with each other, drill down on costs and have been able to make savings on inputs.

Hannah Darby, an arable farmer, who used to work as a physiotherapist, says:

“Compared to working with people that have only been involved in farming I feel that the group is more rounded - everyone’s previous experiences are appreciated. Farming is [a difficult] industry to return to and the support has been vital.

“The main skills that I have brought is problem solving. As a physiotherapist you work on your own and in a short space of time have to diagnose a problem and find a solution. I love finding information from academic journals, universities, industry or other professionals to help understand a problem on the farm.

“I certainly don't regret having another career, it is something that I could go back to at any stage. It has given me a perspective on how service industries run and how important it is to meet your customers’ expectations. It doesn't matter what you do, as long as you enjoy it.”

Former army office, Toby Simpson, is now an arable farmer. He says:

“The industries we are all from vary significantly. As such, so do our non-agricultural skills, like marketing, communication, public relations that some farms can lack. Seeing how others put these into practice on their farms is very useful, such as website design, marketing produce, research etc.

“[I was] trained to manage and lead people and I’ve found these skills very useful in learning how to look after people who work on our farm. Skills I used to foster working relationships with other units in the military help on the farm when working with contractors or agricultural agencies.

“Don’t be afraid to pursue something else that interests you, the farm will always be there and once you’re back you have the whole of your life to learn about it. If you come back when you’re ready, you’ll be more hungry to learn and more confident to make changes that will benefit the business.”

Seb Richardson, a mixed farmer who studied and then taught English in St Petersburg, Russia, says having to plan his teaching lessons prepared him for working independently on the farm when he got back.

Living abroad also expanded his horizons, made him more open to other ideas and adaptable with his farming business.

He thinks other careers can give a useful insight into the forces affecting farming, such as working for an environmental charity, or in politics.

UK Farmes in the field
Hannah Darby, Seb Richardson and Toby Simpson, part of the Returners group, share their data with each other
UK farmer
Tom Martin initiated the group after returning to the family farm after 14 years
UK farmers
“The Returners” checking crops together on one of their farms