WLT Developing Leaders in Agriculture - 13th March 2017

The Crown Estate’s Chief Executive, Alison Nimmo, addressed the Farmers Club at a farming leadership event organised by the Farmers Club Charitable Trust and Windsor Leadership Trust

Details of further Club talks and events can be found on the Events page of the Farmers Club website here


DEVELOPING farming leaders for the future is a priority – one being met by the Farmers Club Charitable Trust.


Conceived five years ago and financed by two generous Farmers Club members the FCCT programme has seen 17 beneficiaries from the farming industry attend the Windsor Leadership Trust’s Emerging Leaders Programme.


On Monday 13th March a fresh drive for funding, applicants and ambassadors was launched to a group of over 70 of the industry’s key influencers, who gathered in the Club’s new Farmers Suite to hear from course participants, and a stimulating keynote speech from Crown Estate chief executive Alison Nimmo CBE, who had benefitted from the WLT programme in the past.


West Country farmer Nick Green, one of the WLT’s 17 farming participants and a Farmers Club member, introduced the evening. “As the alumni of the Farmers Club Charitable Trust’s Windsor Leadership Trust programme we want to work with the farming industry to develop a sustainable group that sits at the top of the leadership ladder. To do that we need two pipelines – one for potential participants and one for funding. This is for the benefit of the industry, so it really does need the industry to help finance it.”


FCCT chairman Stephen Fletcher stressed that the trust, whilst strongly linked to the Farmers Club, was a stand-alone charity. The FCCT WLT programme had been championed by former Farmers Club Secretary Stephen Skinner, with very generous funding from two Farmers Club members. But those monies were now spent, so new funding was needed.


Leading businessman Iain Ferguson, formerly of  Unilever, president of the Food and Drink Federation, CEO of Tate & Lyle plc and now lead non-executive board member at DEFRA, had chaired a meeting to devise a formula for the initiative to continue, and FCCT trustee James Cross was heavily involved in driving this forward. “With all that is happening in farming there has never been a more important time to demonstrate leadership,” Mr Fletcher stressed.


Ms Nimmo, a former surveyor, commented that whilst not everyone was a potential leader, neither did anybody ever quite perfect leadership. “It can be developed and learned, but it takes a lot of time and effort. Leaders comes in many shapes, sizes and genders, and from many different routes. But it all comes down to potential, and unlocking it in a business, an individual or a team.”


A better appreciation of purpose, people and performance had helped her take the Crown Estate from being a landed estate to a world class business, with assets worth an estimated £10bn, significantly outperforming its peers. Windsor Great Park, for example, was now in profit and beating the French at their own game with its own sparkling wine.


WLT participant William Haire, a self-confessed agriculture addict now working with the East of England Agricultural Society, admitted he returned from a fascinating Nuffield Farming Scholarship feeling UK farming had all the tools it needed to succeed, but instead preferred to blame others. “Windsor helped me be more decisive, to see that I could shape my experiences into something valuable. It restored my love of farming, my curiosity, my energy. It changed my life!”


Marketing and communications consultant Jane Craigie, a WLT attendee in 2016 and OECD rural leadership advocate, commended the breadth of experience of the course. “I love farming, but sometimes we can be incredibly parochial, talking amongst ourselves about what we do, and where we are heading. We need to appreciate society’s needs much more, and the opportunities those give us.”


WLT had been a very intense experience, involving an initial five days and then a two day follow up six months later, she reflected. “We had incredible external speakers, and challenged ourselves and each other. It was fascinating to hear how a top naval officer had four mentors and felt it was actually OK to have doubts, for example.”


Ms Nimmo explained that the big benefit of the WLT programme was the very, very honest conversations it facilitated, which empowered individuals to realise their full potential as leaders, she said. It was more about how to ‘be’ as a leader, rather than a series of skills or techniques to be learned.


She commented that in her career she had experienced good, bad and downright ugly leaders. The good had been visionary, and incredibly effective at putting together and supporting and empowering teams. The bad had failed to get everything right, but had operated at incredible pace, which in modern business was paramount. By contrast the ugly had created a very toxic culture of fear around a very big ego.


She had come to recognise that leadership required a strong sense of purpose, with a clear vision and strategy, and a clear picture of what success looked like. It required good people, so hire slowly and hire better than you are – people who are more intelligent and who value teams highly, she advised. And it needed a strong focus on performance.


“Farming has a once in a generation challenge at the moment, and if it gets it right it could not only survive, but thrive. But most importantly it needs to equip the next generation of leaders, the farmers of the future, to be entrepreneurs, experts in global trade, sales and marketing, all with a passion for food production and our countryside.” 


Farming also needed to be competitive, a world-class industry, and that meant attracting talent and investment. It needed to embrace innovation to address what amounted to a fourth industrial revolution. And farmers needed to collaborate, not compete, she asserted.


A chart needed plotting through the Brexit process, especially since so much talk and worry had centred on the future of support payments, whereas what mattered most were the longer-term threats of where the sector’s trade agreements would ‘wash-up” after Brexit, particularly given the importance of exports, as well as access to affordable and skilled seasonal labour.


“Farming is a profession of hope, and leadership is a profession of hope too,” she said. “So think about a talented person and what you could do to help and encourage them.”



WLT participants: Andrew Brown, Alastair Butler, Adrian Cannon, Jane Craigie, Lyndon Edwards, Alex Godfrey, Nick Green, William Haire, Alan Laidlaw, Sarah-Jane Laing, Peter McDonald, Matthew Naylor, Emily Norton, Ian Pigott, Charmay Prout, Caroline Ratcliff and Ian Tremain.


More about the Farmers Club Charitable Trust can be found on the FCCT page of the Farmers Club website here: www.thefarmersclub.com/the-charitable-trust