Thursday, 20 December 2012

James Wallace from IAR Agri Ltd writes:

The first Landbridge workshop brought into focus an important gap in the range of skills amongst land-based advisers, that of project management. There is a huge range of professions working in this very varied sector, many self-employed and with very different objectives, expertise and networks. But increasingly we do have to come together and communicate on complex issues that cross these professional boundaries. That can mean some delicate negotiation and skilful handling of the varied interests involved. Agronomists, for example, will tend to be coming at a problem very much from the production side, while ecologists will be taking a much more conservation-based view. Multiple perspectives have to be given appropriate weight in the process of problem-solving. There were some interesting examples given at the event, including the management of deer as a resource, where environmental, forestry, tourism, shooting and public safety concerns may all require consideration and input from a range of professionals to agree effective approaches. But how are we, as individuals, to develop such project management skills? There is certainly a lack of training and delegates at the Landbridge event commented on this. Some have, of course, become effective project managers by working alongside advisers from other professions, in a deliberate programme of self-development. But I think that, as a sector, we could do better. We need to develop management training to improve skills of bringing professions together and establishing a joint project team and timetable to resolve what can be very complex issues. The agricultural colleges, for example, do a good job in many respects in preparing young people for the rural advisory professions, but they seem to fall down in this area of project management. Perhaps more importantly the professions should consider project management skills as part of their CPD programmes. To use the skills of individual advisers and experts effectively to help resolve complex issues and to achieve workable solutions we need people who have the training to lead a multi-disciplinary team.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Landbridge Workshop

The inaugural workshop of the Landbridge Network stimulated some fascinating discussion. My guess would be that many of the attendees weren’t sure of the relevance of the event to their day to day work when they first signed up for it. But once they were there, it seemed from the lively debate throughout the day that they found the event not only interesting but also very useful.
I certainly did. As someone who advises farmers on agri-environment schemes and other environmental matters as well as writing regularly for the Farmers Guardian and NFU members publications, there was lots of food for thought for me.  Not least, the inter-relationship between environmental and animal welfare issues.
When conservationists promote cattle grazing of remote moorland or wet grassland as a habitat management tool, are they giving animal welfare issues sufficient priority compared to their desired conservation outcomes? It seems to me that in many cases they are not aware of the potential issues for the cattle – nutritional deficiency, possible parasitic infestation and the risk of injury.
If ecologists, farm advisers and vets were to work more closely, many of these issues could be flagged up at an early stage.  Not only could this avoid future bad publicity for some projects, but it could also mean that many of the concerns of the farmers and graziers could be recognised and acted upon at an early stage. This, in turn, would deliver benefits for all involved, not least the animals themselves.
Chloe Palmer
Farm and Environment Consultant

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

The more knowledge you share, the more you will benefit in return…

Rural professionals are a canny bunch, who often seem to play their cards close to their chests – they all have a living to make after all.  But their enthusiasm for a lively sharing of ideas quickly shone through at the first “Landbridge” event held on 4th October in Newcastle.  Landbridge is a new knowledge exchange network developed by researchers at the Centre for Rural Economy at Newcastle University with the aim of improving linkages between rural professionals and academic research communities. Over 50 advisors from a wide range of professional backgrounds came along to set an agenda for rural inter-professional working and exchange.    Practitioners, including a vet, a land agent and an agronomist, shared a taste of their real-life experiences in an economic climate where the price of expertise is constantly being squeezed.   But they quickly agreed that sharing knowledge has the potential to benefit everyone, and better access to the latest research could be a real bonus.  As soon became clear from the way everyone tackled the workshop exercises, these specialists are constantly needing to work together to find solutions to complex technical problems and that’s when networking becomes a necessity.   One delegate remarked, “Farming is an industry based on trust”, and that’s a principle that underlies much of the economic activity in rural communities.