Part of my farm week involves recording any invoices received and writing down the time spent working around the yard and fields. For my sins, I am comfortable with Microsoft Excel so the ‘accounts2022’ and ‘time-diary’ spreadsheets are usually updated every Friday morning. Like any job, it took a while to get into this routine, but thankfully it now feels like just another part of the work.
While everyone will have their up and down years, our finances have been nothing if not erratic. We built ewe numbers over a few years, but then sold all the sheep and changed over fully to calf rearing in the space of six months.
Instead of having lambs to sell and cash coming in semi-regularly for several months of the year, we now sell cattle in autumn and that cash injection has to last until the following year.
Direct payments are low, often causing raised eyebrows from accountants and lending officials. Land was reclaimed from rushes and we are reseeding a few acres every year, which also takes a ball of money.
There is nothing unique in any of this and I only mention it to give examples that cannot be accounted for in some industry templates.
While everyone will have their up and down years, our finances have been nothing if not erratic
One of the main attractions for switching to calves and cattle was the idea that the farm finances would improve and the rough waters outlined above would begin to settle down. I’m smiling as I write these words now, talking about calm waters at a time when fertiliser is three times the price it was in 2021 and output prices are at a record high, albeit only where they should have been all along.
When it is pointed out that farmers get a small percentage of the final food price, the experts in suits loudly announce that we should not worry about the massive profits others are making off our backs.
Instead, they say, just concentrate your little mind on what can be done inside your own small farm gate. There is a grain of truth in this.
For my own mental health then, I track the farm finances, try to keep costs low, and walk away from the accounts after that.
For my own mental health then, I track the farm finances
That’s when I switch to the time-diary spreadsheet, which is something I have much more control over. I have nearly two years of data at this stage on the amount of time I spend on farm work. As I mentioned on this page previously, the numbers tell me spring is busiest, followed by a slowing down in summer and autumn, before gradually building up again as winter feeding kicks in.
Nothing insightful there, you might say, but tracking time has allowed me to compare every year to the previous one. If I am making any progress, I should be working fewer hours in 2022 compared to 2021, with profit staying the same or improving in relative terms.
You can’t have it every way I guess, no matter how much data you track
The numbers don’t lie and I am relieved to report that average hours per week are lower so far this year compared to the same period last year. Not lambing ewes has helped, as has not having to bring lambs into the yard for various treatments such as lameness, worm doses, orf and fly strike.
The downside, of course, is not having any lambs to sell to pay bills earlier in the year and having more cash tied up in individual animals.
You can’t have it every way I guess, no matter how much data you track and spreadsheets you fill.