The MBA Agrifarm Scholarship - Leaf Image
MBA Agrifarm Scholarship - endorsements

Peter Kendall President NFU

Dave Richardson

I am delighted to lend my support to this Scholarship and to be able to thank John Beckett for creating this very generous opportunity for younger farmers. I share with John the benefits of the highest standards of management in agriculture not only to help ensure the future competitiveness of UK agriculture but also because of the challenges the industry is going to have to surmount if it is to meeting the growing demand for food. As it dawns on politicians that the world is going to struggle to supply all the food it needs the country is learning afresh of the importance of a modern, responsive and efficient agricultural industry.

Farming is changing; the typical farmer now manages a larger and growing scale of operation while production systems and machines are becoming more sophisticated and high-tech. Many farms now believe that working in some form of business relationship with other farms as well as suppliers and customers is a more certain route to lowering unit costs and better meeting customers’ demands. These trends demand management capabilities that include building effective arms-length relationships as well as business knowledge that stretches beyond the farm-gate. The NFU has always supported initiatives that advance the industry’s welfare and central to this is to take every opportunity to ensure farmers have access to the best that management science can offer. I believe this is a very timely initiative and I will take every opportunity to encourage ambitious younger farmers to apply for the Agri-farm Scholarship.

I am a very unusual farmer. After more than 10 years milking cows and much thought about the future of the agricultural industry I took the decision, last year, to return to university. Encouraged by the Agri–Farm Scholarship Scheme1, I applied to the Cranfield School of Management for a place on its highly regarded Masters of Business Administration Programme.

The course started in October and lasts for a year. Since then, the farm has been managed by my wife and I spend my days, and some of my nights, studying subjects such as marketing, strategy and organisational behaviour alongside a lively group of students – average age 32 – drawn from many parts of the world. Their experiences in a diverse range of industries, together with the teaching, have opened my eyes to the complex world of business beyond the farm gate. Many farmers now talk of the need to diversify but to my mind studying for an MBA is the ultimate form of diversification. It is completely different experiences for me but I believe it is equipping me to be in a position to take advantage of future opportunities and, perhaps to my surprise, I am not only holding my own, but also greatly enjoying it.

Why at the age of 32 did I take such a decision? The answer is that I found myself in full agreement with people like John Beckett, the former Chairman of Genus and the prime mover behind the MBA Agri–Farm Scholarships, who argue that British farmers may be technically and practically excellent, but on their own these skills are no longer sufficient for survival in the 21st century. Post CAP reform the agricultural world is rapidly changing from a producer driven to a market led industry. This is a much tougher environment than farmers have been used to, and in my view, one which demands the lack the cross functional business management skills taught on a good MBA Programme.

The government has made it very clear that in the future financial support to the industry will be reduced and to me that dictates that farmers will have to reach beyond the farm gate if their businesses are to be profitable. Whatever route farmers take, be it increasing their scale of operation, becoming a member of a Farmer Controlled Business, diversifying or all three, they are more likely to succeed if they have not only financial and entrepreneurial skills but also the ‘soft’ skills so necessary to achieve more responsive, cooperative business relationships.

The idea of a farm being first and foremost a business, rather than a way of life, is alien to many of the farmers I meet. I came to Cranfield because I was convinced that as a farmer I had to learn how to work more closely with other businesses in the food chain and to adopt the mindset and best practices of mainstream business managers. The first step is to admit that we are no different from any other industry and we must therefore apply the same rigour to the management of our farms as found in other successful small and medium sized businesses. We must stop making excuses that farming is a “way of life” and adhere to the profit motive by constantly seeking to improve efficiency and better meet customers’ demands.

Like it or not the protected post-war cosy world of European farming is coming to an end. The developing nations are becoming the economic driving force in the world and they have learnt that to succeed they must make full use of technology and education. We must do the same if we are to survive, let alone succeed. To my mind farmers looking to be business leaders within our industry should seriously consider applying for an Agri–Farm Scholarship as it greatly reduces the financial cost of gaining the management skills and knowledge that the farming industry so badly needs. I would like to end with a quote from one of our economics lecturers. “Money isn’t essential for life but it ranks up there alongside oxygen!” Given the current state of agriculture farmers should be the first to see the truism of this statement.

Richard Milligan-Manby

Why take time out to study for an MBA? For me it was the fact that I was involved in both farming and farmer owned cooperatives, I realised that the world that I had been trained for was fundamentally changing and I needed to adapt to the pressures of multi nationals dominating our supply chain. An article in the farming press(circa 2007) by John Beckett inspired me to apply for the agri scholarship to study for an MBA at Cranfield.

My main concern before I attended Cranfield was could I keep up with all the other students on the course; in some areas I struggled yet the team ethos of learning, and the fact that farming is no different than most other businesses I settled into the life of a Cranfield student with relative ease. Cranfield is unique in many ways its focus on personal development and its history of association with the manufacturing sectors brought practical reality to the management theories we were being taught. It is hard to believe that a bond can be formed between so many students from such a cross section of businesses yet it does and this stays with you for life. The MBA covers many different modules from Strategy, Economics to corporate finance, the list is longer yet it allows you to change your own perspective of life and how you run your business whether you are part of a multi national or running your own business.

Committing yourself to studying for an MBA is certainly a life changing moment as it tests many of the business and personal principles of life you have learned and allows you the time to think away from the environment you have created to operate from. There are many reasons to think about studying for an MBA yet many people find more excuses not to (eg commitments to current projects), in reality it is the fear of not leaving your comfort zone that makes you say no. Life is about facing challenges and continually learning new ways to innovate to gain the competitive edge in business and studying for an MBA helps create the right environment for you to succeed. Many of the decisions I take in farming are related to factors outside my control yet the frame work I operate within in terms of managing the business has been fundamentally enhanced by the experience of learning in the environment of an MBA.

One of the many things I have learnt since leaving is the strength the Cranfield Alumui, the MBA is the start of the learning process, yet the continual opportunity to learn post Cranfield through ones continuing association with the Alumui cannot be under estimated, as I stated early, committing to an MBA is life changing, it is amazing what you can achieve by challenging yourself.

Paul Eggleston

Support from the Agri-Farm trust gave me the confidence that I could achieve a recognised qualification working alongside future global business leaders. Developing a manager to run my business has given me a more focussed approach to the business and I have seen him flourish with the added responsibility. Agriculture will have an important role in economies of the future and the Cranfield MBA has given me the business skills to play a part in this.

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