Farming, like any other business, requires an investor to understand the various dynamics involved in the production process.
The farmer also has to map out the critical factors that must be kept within specified limits for the business to succeed.
For instance, chicken farming can be very satisfying once the investor and the farm team have mastered the production dynamics.
On the other hand, it can be very frustrating if an investor allows the production process to proceed in free fall, responding to issues as they arise.
In my 29 years in veterinary practice, I have learnt to categorise farmers a bit differently from the textbook classification.
I classify them as the business farmer, the telephone farmer, the hobby farmer and the copy and paste farmer.
The business farmer is a classical investor and will do farming to make profit. If the farm cannot make profit regardless of the interventions she executes, she will close it and channel the salvaged funds to another business.
The farm staff in a business farm are organised like in any other business and they are skilled or semi-skilled with regular evaluation of their performance.
This is what my lecturer, those many years ago, called “the farm business firm” to the amazement of students.
They could not understand why the farm economics lecturer was repeating the word “farm” twice until he wrote the full phrase on the chalk board.
The telephone farmer, on the other hand, leaves the farm investment to her staff to run and pays a visit occasionally – mostly over the weekends and on holidays.
The farm usually never realises business success though it may run for many years.
Many people holding day-time jobs and have means fall in this category.
Hobby farmers, on the other hand, are not motivated by profits. The farming is very expensive just like many other hobbies.
Gratification in hobby farming comes from emotional satisfaction. A hobby farmer will spend anything within her means to ensure that her animals are in top condition.
She relishes displaying her animals to others and will give the precise history and performance of each animal with gusto.
You dare not ask her the bottom-line of her investment. She will not be happy when you start crunching the numbers particularly if you are an accountant.
In my opinion, it is perfectly in order to be a hobby farmer because emotional gratification is one of the jewels we are all looking for in our lives.
The peace of mind hobby farming delivers may make the individual flourish in other circles and command a flowery public image.
I believe if we went into deeper economic analysis and deal with intangible profits, a successful hobby farmer would really win big.
Nonetheless, if you chose to be a hobby farmer, you must have a really good source of income to finance the activity.
Finally, we have the copy and paste farmer. This investor joins the fray because others are successfully doing it. The investment is usually hurried and she is impatient with achieving profitable results.
Shortcuts are her working policy in the hope of making a killing.
She will go for the cheapest product, the cheapest animals and the cheapest professional service without consideration for the quality offered.
This kind of farmer is also a perpetual complainant. Nothing works for her. When you visit her farm for the first time as a service provider, the introduction you get is a list of service providers and products that have landed on that farm and were abandoned as quickly as they had come.
It is a good warning that even you or your products will be meeting the same fate soon.
The copy and paste farmers are the most frustrating clients to deal with professionally. They ignore expert opinion and instructions and will never acknowledge their mistakes.
In most cases, they never succeed in establishing profitable farming businesses. Unfortunately these kind of farmers, in my estimation, comprise the largest number in the country.
UNDERSTAND FARMER'S MOTIVATION
This begs the question, “Could this be the reason why we are never self-sufficient in food supply?”
In the backdrop of this farmer behaviour, I have an operational policy of making sure I always understand what a farmer’s motivation is before agreeing to professional engagement. That leads me to a phone discussion I had with a lady calling from Murang’a on Monday this week.
She said her name was Jacinta and she wanted to know whether I could assist her establish a zero-grazing dairy cattle unit with good grade cattle.
“I can do that Jacinta but I can’t really start addressing your question without understanding your objective in keeping the cows,” I told her.
“Okay doctor, I have some knowledge on cattle but I would like your advice on establishing a self-sustaining and profitable dairy farm of about 50 head of cattle over the next five years?” she shot back.
With that response, I concluded I was dealing with a potential “farm business firm”.
We agreed she would come to my office for in-depth discussions on her planned dairy farm project.