Entrepreneurs in Dairying: Meet the students

Entrepreneurs in Dairying returns for 2015. We met up with some of the students from the 2014 course to find out how the course has benefited them and their career.

For details on this year's course please click here 

Mark Lee, Park House, Torpenhow, Wigton, Cumbria 

Previous training: LLM Medical Law; LLB; PgdL

Previous career: Kings Own Scottish Borderers Regiment – 10 years in total, the last five I was an army lawyer. I also played rugby at professional level for eight years including captaining the Scotland Sevens, the British Army and the Combined Services.

Why did you attend the course: After 10 years of serving as an Officer in the British Army, I had the opportunity to work together with my wife, Jenny by helping to run her family dairy farm. I had no previous experience of farming or working in agriculture, but the opportunity to get stuck into such a dynamic and exciting industry was too good to miss. 

For the first two years I threw myself into the three times a day milking routine and began developing my practical skills of AI and hoof trimming.  I really wanted to enhance my understanding of the business and management side of the industry. The Entrepreneurs in Dairy course was an opportunity to focus on business efficiency, networking with like minded individuals and getting practical advice from inspirational business leaders.

What did you get out of the course? Entrepreneurs in Dairying helped me to build contacts with people at the forefront in the industry – those who push things forward. Whilst the course had a set structure, I was also able to tailor it to what I wanted. 

The most important area for me was the focus on business management, the corner stone of which was a two day course which began with personal goal setting and culminated in developing a business plan.

In addition, the course promoted the Get Mentoring in Farming programme. I had the opportunity to acquire some guidance from fellow Cumbria dairy farmer, Robert Craig; his attitude and approach to business was very inspiring. I took home advice on how to approach farm business accounting with end goals. I have subsequently set out two and five year plans as a family with two small children as well as a farm. 

What are you doing now? Currently knocking walls in sheds down to increase ventilation and moving calves into igloos. Having had several careers, dairy farming is the most demanding, complex and diverse job I have undertaken and is almost as all encompassing as having a six and four year old!

What are your future plans? To achieve and develop our two and five year goals by ensuring the family farming business is dynamic and healthy. 

Top three take home tips you have learned from the course

  • Challenge every aspect of your business
  • Set goals and write them down
  • Small steps to make big changes

James Tweedie, South Dyke Farm, Great Salkeld, Penrith, Cumbria 

Previous training: MSc Mathematics

What had you previously done on the family farm / previous career achievements?
After leaving school I spent four years studying Maths at university, following after I successfully applied to Charityworks, a paid, 12 month programme for graduates starting a career in the non-profit sector. After three years working in the charity sector in London, my parent provided me with the option to return home to be involved in the day to day running and management of the family farm. I returned in spring 2014. 

Why did you attend the course? I saw the course as a great way to develop some business and financial skills which I think will prove to be vital for every dairy farmer in the coming years. In addition the chance to hear from a combination of technical experts and dairy businesses who are already putting these skills into practice seemed like it was an opportunity not to be missed.

What did you get out of the course: One key emphasis was the need not only to be an excellent technical operator on farm, but also the importance of having top notch financial and business skills. The two day finance course proved to be hugely useful. In addition to the content of the course, the opportunity to network, make contacts and share ideas with other like-minded young people in the sector cannot be underestimated.  

What are you doing now and future plans? Continuing to work with my parents running the family farm. We are striving to constantly improve the unit and its 370 cow herd run on a low-cost grass-based system.

The biggest lesson you’ve learned from Entrepreneurs in Dairying: The course reaffirmed my strong belief that despite current market conditions, for positive, forward thinking people, the dairy sector is, and will continue to be, an awesome place to live and work. 

Top three things you plan to change on the farm since completing the course:
Aside from gaining technical knowledge, the most important thing I’ve acted on since the course is seeking out opportunities for professional development. 

Whilst dairying by its very nature will always require a significant level of time commitment, it is important to balance that against time spent off farm improving your skills and reflecting on your own goals. 

I have been fortunate to attend a number of excellent development opportunities, such as conferences and open days since completing the course, each of which has proven to be useful. Later this year I’ll be completing a three week study tour to New Zealand, which should provide me with even more ideas and inspiration.

Eamonn Roughley, Penrith, Cumbria

Eamonn Roughley was among the 15 who successfully completed the inaugural Entrepreneurs in Dairying at Newton Rigg. “It proved to be a great programme for me,” he explained. “It was the catalyst for the development a new skillset, building knowledge and best practice of the dairy industry which has enabled me to go on to start setting up my own specialist dairy contracting business. 

“Furthermore, all those involved in the programme – both the speakers and course members demonstrated such a positive attitude towards dairy farming which was very motivating and encouraging at a time when there is so much gloom in the sector.”

Eamonn, who hails from a non-farming background, studied engineering and is currently a commercial manager for a major retailer. He grew up helping out on friends’ farms and whilst ultimately pursuing a career in sales and marketing, has maintained a lifelong interest in farming, particularly in the precision sector. 

“Relocating to the rural north-west three years ago was a turning point, sparking the desire to get practically involved in farming once again and signing up for Entrepreneurs in Dairying was the door opener. It gave me credibility to talk to potential employers and introduced me to a fellow course member who was able to offer me practical milking experience.

“Following on with further training, I’m in the process of setting up my own business – contract rearing young stock and professional foot trimming. I’m also considering grassland management and business management consultancy.”