Bravery In Farming

Bravery in the line of farming

Planning, teamwork, precision

Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith was a keynote speaker at the recent Cotton Conference. He provided some useful thoughts on success, which apply to farming.

Planning requires detail

According to Ben, planning is the key to success and in the SAS they often spent days in planning the details of a mission, along with a number of backup plans.
In farming there is a need for a lot of planning to control problems such as crown rot and nematodes and problem weeds, such as FTR grass. Details are important. Backup plans are needed if key staff or a tractor or harvester go out of action at an important time.


Teamwork is vital for a battle, and Corporal Roberts-Smith explained how the army has clearly defined roles and communication. However, it is never as important as when things do not go according to plan and it is vital that everyone on the operation understands the tasks and the objectives.
Teamwork is vital also for a campaign of planting or harvesting a large area of crop in a small amount of time.
In farming you need a good team around you which includes your advisers as well as employees and contractors. How you lead this team will determine its success.
At one time I had a manager with a leadership style you could call “shock and awe.” It involved yelling, profanity and thumping the table to motivate employees. Unsurprisingly, he was not exactly effective in creating a devoted and engaged workforce willing to go the extra mile. Staff turnover was around 100% per year.
Shock and awe may have been a feature of leadership in the army in the past, but Ben assured us it is not part of the modern SAS.

Objectives are important

Many farmers have the wrong starting point, when they say they are not in farming to make a profit. The conversation with the team should be that we know it is possible to make a good profit (from benchmarking with others) and we need more effort to move from an ordinary result to a good one. If money is not the key point, other objectives, such as lifestyle, succession or retirement needs may be the focus.


I can’t think of a more precise job than planting 60,000 seeds/ha at the right depth, in variable soils, making adjustments as the moisture runs out. Good operations require preparation, trials, staff training and good supervision. Many farmers could improve yields by 15% and profits by 30% with more precise operations and timeliness.


Corporal Roberts tells the story of a 13 hour engagement with the Taliban, outnumbered three to one, where they succeeded without a single casualty. Despite being exhausted they spent severalhours gathering photos and evidence and many hours on return to base reviewing the battle. The main reason for this review – to do it better next time.
Success in farming requires review, involving the team thinking about how things can be done better and more efficiently.

Managing requires effort and bravery!

Success in business is no accident. Purpose planning, precision and review are important, and given the constant setbacks, so is bravery.
We can learn from the SAS. Cpl Ben Roberts-Smith says success comes from planning, teamwork and the ability to see a situation from all angles.
All farmers make changes, such as managing input costs, but real innovation which can often double profit is to understand the whole business margin process and have a good team to implement it to perfection, learning from mistakes as they go along.
The increased time you devote to planning and
working together with your team may win the ongoing battle with the weather. Throw in some creativity and leadership and your efforts may be recognized for their bravery.

19th August 2014
Peter Wylie