In’s and out’s of farming

Many people, including a lot of farmers, may consider the main inputs to farm businesses to be things such as seed, fertiliser, animal feed and fuel etc. While these are of course hugely important inputs for UK farms, in reality an awful lot more is sourced. As an example, at AF we procure approximately £10m worth of seed a year for our Members. However, in our General Inputs team we procure close to £20m worth of inputs over the same period. Perhaps it’s time we re-evaluated what we consider the main farm business inputs to be.

More than farming

Farmers and diversification have gone hand in hand for many years now. Glamping, self-storage and farm shops may now be considered standard fair for a farm business. But we see a lot of farmers thinking even more differently.  

Some years ago, my team helped one of our Members with the materials for conversion of old farm buildings into a steak house restaurant where he served up such delicacies as crocodile meat which he bred on his farm!

The last three years have put extreme pressures on farmers, as we all know. But a by-product of these challenges is that more and more farmers are looking at what resources they have, where they are, and what skills sets they have and which idea is it best to invest in. Considering all options to boost income has become essential.

General what?

When people ask me to explain what main General Inputs farming or rural businesses need I reply that they can broadly be broken down into five core areas: building and construction materials, waste management, fencing (including electric), steel frame buildings and electrical goods. But even with that top five I am already thinking that there are other inputs I regularly procure that can be added to the list.

You might wonder what a typical working week looks like for my team and I with such a diverse product portfolio? Well, just this week we have sourced a huge range of inputs from hedging plants, concrete, aggregates, branded workwear, stationery, and even a range cooker.

A Member request can be anything from a simple “please order X”, through to asking to have early-stage conversation about the feasibility for full scale building project. We are the essential link between demand and supply.

Storing up solutions

If one half of any week is spent working with what our Members want the rest is spent with the people who we can rely on when we source the inputs needed: our suppliers. It takes constant communication with our key partner suppliers to get wind of trends, product availability and price changes.

Take this, as an example. One of our Members had diversified into self-storage. This proved much more popular than they had expected and were as a result faced with either turning business away or sourcing multiple shipping containers at very short notice. Thanks to the strength of our supplier relationships, we were able to arrange for 10 to be delivered within a week. Problem solved. 

Perhaps the next time you hear people talking about farm inputs you’ll remember how many kinds of materials a modern farm may need in any week or season. Perhaps you will also think of the people who will pick up the phone call and email and be standing by with the connections and enthusiasm to get what’s needed on farm and into work. I truly enjoy being part of rural business plans from start to finish.

Darren Maclaren   General Inputs Procurement Manager   01603 881 843

Maclaren, D. 2023. Wide range of inputs required beyond the obvious. East Anglian Daily Times. 4th February.