Can ‘EQ’ improve farm performance?

Published 7 December 15

Successful farming has traditionally been associated with technical skills and business acumen – but what role do the ‘softer’ skills play? A recent AHDB Dairy study looking at the drivers behind farm performance suggests profitability is also linked to good emotional and social intelligence – ‘EQ’ rather than ‘IQ’… 

It’s commonly recognised that, while farm productivity in the rest of the world is growing, in the UK it’s stalling. And the reasons for this have not been altogether clear, says Promar’s Neil Adams. 

“There’s no shortage of advice out there, and we have access to what is basically the same technology as everyone else in the world,” he says. “Yet we are in danger of being left behind as many countries around the globe including Australia, the USA, China and Ireland  accelerate away from us with faster gains in productivity.” 

He says we know that differences in performance between farms is more a function of management than size or output. Between the top and bottom performing quartiles of dairy farms benchmarked in 2014 through AHDB’s annual benchmarking evidence report, there is a huge 276% difference in net margin per cow despite the fact the top profit farms are only generating 9% more milk yield per cow. 

So, if management is the critical factor, what exactly does good management look like? This is the question AHDB Dairy with funding from The ‘Improving the Welsh Dairy Supply Chain’ project, through Promar has tried to answer in this novel study, by looking at what goes on inside the minds of those managers who are really forging ahead and achieving an outstanding performance. 

Neil says there are three recognised abilities in people – their technical skills, their cognitive ability or IQ, and their emotional abilities or EQ. “In his bestselling 1992 book ‘Working with Emotional Intelligence’, management specialist Dan Goleman wrote that effective leaders are alike: they all have a high degree of emotional intelligence. In fact, Goleman found that in studies of the competencies required for excellence in performance, two-thirds were EQ-based. 

“Other studies have shown that managers with high levels of ‘EQ’ skills like self-management, self-regulation and relationship management, on average produce profits between two and five times greater than those without those skills, whereas those with just high cognitive skills or IQ produce profits on average 0.8 times greater than those without.” 

Neil says that studies like this, until now had not been attempted in agriculture but they provide an interesting and new approach to addressing the productivity problem, and this is why Promar was so excited to be able to research whether farm performance was associated with the EQ competencies of its manager or owner.

In the research, Promar used psychometric tests on 65 farmer volunteers to determine EQ by measuring their social and personal competence and then comparing these scores with the net margins they were achieving on their farms. 

ESI Graph

According to Salovey and Mayer in 1990, EQ or as they call it, Emotional Intelligence (EI), is defined as: ‘the capacity for recognizing our own feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves, and for managing emotions well in ourselves and in our relationships. Emotional Intelligence describes abilities distinct from, but complementary to, academic intelligence’. 

The results showed that in general, as levels of social competence increase, so do levels of personal competence, and vice versa.  A wide range of EQ skills were measured, but four areas in particular showed a significant relationship with net margin per cow. These were teamwork and collaboration, conscientiousness, developing others, and leadership. In these areas, the top 25 financially-performing farms, which had an average net margin of £739/cow, scored significantly higher competence scores than the bottom 25 performing farms, which had an average margin of £119/cow. 

ESI Graph 2

Neil says: “Those farmers with high EQ scores had the exact competencies you would expect to find in high performing managers in any industry. They used emotion and intuition to communicate, were relaxed and were genuinely interested in their employees’ wellbeing. They were planning at least 15 years ahead, tended to have succession in hand and enjoyed outside interests from the farm. 

“By comparison, those with a low score were tense, hesitant and shy. They tended to be guarded, disapproving of their team, inflexible and micromanaging. It’s well known that stress is a big issue in agriculture but it is not felt evenly. The high performing famers had quite clearly developed their competencies to deal with pressure through the way they manage others and by how they manage themselves. 

“We think this shows a huge potential for developing success in our industry. In a world where technology is universal and much knowledge is freely available our true competitive advantage may just boil down to the management ability of our farmers. It’s a tough message for some but improving farming really starts with farmers finding out about what part of themselves they need to change to be more successful”. 

If you would like to discuss this project further then please contact

Try testing your own Emotional Intelligence through a number of free tests that are available online. Here is one US-based test we found was good – although you will need to convert some of your answers to allow for $ instead of £. It takes approximately 45 minutes to complete and provides a free summary of your results. You can also download a full report at a cost of $10, but this is not obligatory.