Decisions4Dairy - Tough questions are the key to success

To succeed in modern business, farming families need a well-defined strategy. Great but what does that really mean and how do I go about getting it?

How do you go about deciding on your strategy and plan for the future? And importantly do you know what your family and business partner’s wants, needs and objectives are?

As part of Decisions4Dairy, we at AHDB Dairy have been working with small groups and individual farm businesses to facilitate these thought processes and conversations within families.

We ask three basic questions and get families to talk about their own answers:

1. What makes you happy in life?

This should not be anything to do with farming or business; some examples would be time with family, sport, food, hobbies such as rugby or shooting, community involvement, your dogs or taking part in charity work

2. What makes you happy about farming?

This is all about the things you enjoy about farming and running a business; some examples would be watching heifers grow, fixing and fabricating kit, ploughing a field, lovely scenery, bringing cows in for milking on a summer’s morning or working with your own customers.

3. Why are you doing what you are doing?

This is critical; some examples would be money to finance a lifestyle/hobbies/education, to provide a business to handdown to the next generation, being your own boss or is it ‘just what I’ve always done’?

We then challenge these families and get them to discuss their likes and their business:

  • What are the areas of activity of your business (dairy, heifers, beef, sheep, arable, property)
  • Should this be the area of activity you’re in – thinking about why you are doing it?
  • What could it be – thinking about what you enjoy and other skills you have?
  • What kind of business do you want it to be?
  • How do you utilise and work with stakeholders (suppliers, customers, vet, consultant, family members and staff)?
  • What relationship is there with the environment and society, what should it be?
  • Do you want to grow the organisation – thinking about why you are doing it?
  • What does growth mean to your business – thinking about what makes you happy both in and out of business?

The ideas is to use these discussions as inspiration to come up with (and write down) a vision for your business and farm; this is your mental image of the possible and desirable future state of the business, in whatever form it may take. This vision is best pinned up in a place where everyone can see it, to remind you of what you and them are all working towards, then every time a decision has to be made they can look and ask themselves does that take me closer or further away from our shared vision.

The next step is to think about how you are going to achieve your vision. What are you going to do, both financially and practically, to achieve your vision; what are your objectives?

When you set out your objectives or the steps that will take you closer to your vision, make sure they are:

  • Specific – what ‘It’ exactly is it
  • Measurable – put some numbers on it so you know whether you reach it or not
  • Agreed – everyone needs to be working towards it, including the paid staff team
  • Realistic – is it achievable, given constraints of skill, time, infrastructure, etc
  • Time-bound – put a time scale on it, to keep you on track.


Consider the fact that not all of your team or family are working towards that same place and so none of you might get to where you want to be!

Current pressures mean that many farming families have had to take a solid reality check and realise that what they were doing every day was or wasn’t helping them to be happy in business and life too. Before we get carried away with the small increase in milk price we’ve seen, making us think everything will be okay, perhaps take some time to ensure ‘okay’ is what you all want.   

This is something you can start to think and chat to your family about, then get a third party help to facilitate some good discussion and ideas/conversation. For instance, use your consultant or a trained facilitator, or why not get in touch with your local AHDB Knowledge Exchange officer, to see how they can support you to drive forwards. 


This is one of a series of articles on mindset.  Read more on this and Decisions4Dairy – an industry-wide initiative to support farmers in challenging times so they can become more robust for the longer term at