Future Fit Farming

The Firth Way

We strive for excellence in all we do which ensures a profitable and sustainable business.

We stand for strategic excellence, operational excellence and bridging the gap between science and practice.

We are extremely proud of how we continue to develop our people and also allow for technological enablement, which enables systems and automation necessary to deliver real business benefit. Our farming is also sustainable and eco friendly.

Our motto is to be, Ethically Sustainable, Socially Responsible, Progressive and Curious, Leading economically diverse large scale farmers.

By definition it is the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems. It is the harmonious integration of landscape and people providing their food, energy, shelter, and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way  and leads to farming techniques that protect the environment, public health, human communities and animal welfare. Those of us who are drawn to practicing or supporting these techniques inherently know it is the right way to live in the world in which we dwell.

Socially responsible activities are those in which the individual profiting from the activity covers all the costs the activity incurs and shifts none of those costs to others who will not profit from it. Socially responsible farming would be farming where all the costs of the farm (air and water pollution, etc.) are contained within the farm’s boundaries and are not shifted off the farm.

The first principle of sustainable farm economics is the pursuit of “enlightened” self-interests – self-interests that recognize the individual, interpersonal, and spiritual dimensions of self. This principle is reflected in nearly all of the most popular “post-industrial” approaches to farm management, including Holistic Resource Management, Biodynamic Farming, Perm culture, and Organic Farming. The three cornerstones of sustainable agriculture – economic viability, social responsibility, and ecological integrity – are but reflections of the individual, interpersonal, and spiritual dimension of our quality of life. The three part goal of Holistic Management – forms of production, quality of life, and future landscapes – are but a different means of stating the economic, social, and ecological dimensions of sustainability. True organic farming is as much a philosophy of life as a method of farming – as much an expression of social and moral principles as a means for making a living. In all of these approaches to farm management, economic objectives are balanced with social and ecological objectives. The overall goal is to achieve a higher quality of life through harmony and balance among things economic, ecological and social, rather than through maximization or minimization of anything.

The second principle of sustainable farm economics is taking “a holistic approach to farm management.” Rather than analysis, taking the farm apart piece-by-piece, the farm is considered as an indivisible, interdependent whole. In a sustainable farming operation, the relationships among the various components of the farm are as important as the components themselves. Traditional enterprise analysis tends to ignore, or at least distort, the contribution of positive relationships to the whole-farm economics. For example, when individual crops in rotations are evaluated separately and when livestock enterprises are evaluated separate from crops, the positive interrelationships among various crop and livestock enterprises in managing pests, maintaining soil health and fertility, efficient utilization of available labor, diversification of risks, etc. tend to be undervalued or ignored.

Holistic management requires that the potential impact of changes in one or more enterprises be evaluated in terms of their impacts on the economics of the whole farm system. The various “post-industrial” approaches to farm management each advocate somewhat different methods of whole-farm management, but they all achieve the same basic end – they consider the farm as a whole rather than as a collection of enterprises. The fundamental question is how best to synthesize a whole farm, how best to put together an effectively integrated whole-farm system rather than how to choose the best collection of individual enterprises. With holistic management, productivity is achieved through synergy – through building wholes that are greater than the sum of their parts.

One basic approach to whole-farm evaluation is closely related to “partial budgeting” in conventional farm management. In partial budgeting, a change in a specific enterprise or activity is evaluated by estimating its potential impacts on the overall farm operation. It is called “partial budgeting” because only those aspects of the farm that will be affected by the change are budgeted. First, expected additions to income from the new enterprise are added to any expected reductions in costs in other enterprises that can be expected as a consequence of the new enterprise. Next expected additions to expenses associated with the new enterprise are added to any expected reductions in income in other enterprises associated with new enterprise. Finally, the sum of the additions in costs and reductions in income are subtracted from the expected increases in income and reductions in costs to derive a net change in whole-farm income as a consequence of the proposed change.

If such a process is carried out carefully, the result should provide a reasonable estimate to the economic consequences of changing any part of a farming operation with respect to the farming system as a whole. The same process could be followed to assess the social and ecological implications of changing any aspect of a farming operation. Budgeting would have to include such intangibles as amount and quality of time available to spend with family and community activities. Partial budgeting would also be used to assess potential impacts of changes in the overall farming operation on environmental stewardship – soil erosion, water quality, biological diversity, etc. such an approach invariable must consider the family, or the person farming, as a part of the overall farming system. Family labor and management and alternative uses of time, ethical and moral values and the expression of those values through farming, ultimately must be balanced with economics in farming for an overall higher quality of life.

Another principle of sustainable farm economics is “to achieve strength through diversity.” Biological diversity and economic diversity are essential in building ecological systems that are durable as well as productive. The focus of industrial systems, however, is on productivity rather than durability.

Increasing specialization has led to loss of biodiversity, and thus, to increasing vulnerability of livestock and crops to insects, parasites, diseases and other pests, and to adverse growing conditions – requiring ever increasing reliance on costly off-farm inputs. Increasing specialization has led to loss of economic diversity, and thus, to increasing vulnerability to depressed market prices or rising input costs of the specific commodities being produced – requiring ever increasing reliance on commercial risk management strategies or contract farming. Farmers almost invariably find they lack the expertise or market discipline needed to use commodity markets risk management tools. Farmers invariably find themselves at a competitive disadvantage to large corporate firms when “negotiating” comprehensive production contracts. Farmers simply have not been able to manage the risks of large-specialized farming operations effectively.

However, production, marketing, and financial risks can be managed by applying the fundamental principles of diversity. In managing biological diversity, some important considerations include selecting a combination of crops and livestock enterprise – spatially, sequentially, and temporally – in order to break pest cycles or manage pest populations, maintain soil health and fertility, and efficiently utilize available resources. By relying on diversity rather than off-farm inputs to maintain productivity, farmers reduce their out-of-pocket, variable costs. However, diverse systems typically require more labor and management – which typically are committed and thus fixed in nature. So farmers may increase their fixed costs relative to variable costs as they substitute labor and management for off-farm inputs.

Even if total costs remain essentially unchanged, however, farmers can significantly reduce their financial risks by relying less on off-farm, purchased inputs and more on on-farm, owned resources. On such farms, most short-term losses due to adverse weather or markets can be absorbed by accepting a smaller return for labor and management during years of adversity. Costs of purchased inputs, on the other hand, must be paid, regardless of whether the farm generates sufficient profits to do so. Thus, high-input, high-variable cost farms are more vulnerable to the risks of economic failure than are low-input, high-fixed cost farms.

In managing economic diversity, the most important considerations are to select combinations of enterprises that will tend to have offsetting patterns of market prices. Commodities with offsetting price patterns will tend to stabilize farm revenues, because profits from one will tend to offset losses from the other. Even commodities that have price patterns that are unrelated, or not correlated, add economic diversity. For example, a farm with four equal-sized enterprises with unrelated price patterns of equal variability will have only one-half as much income variability as a farm of the same size that specializes in only one of the four enterprises. However, diversity is not the same thing as variety. If different enterprises have the same basic production and market patterns, such as corn and soybeans, variety will do relatively little to reduce risks. Sustainable farm economics requires effectively integrated economically diverse farming systems.

Another important fundamental principle of sustainable farm economics is to “give customers full economic value.” Farm profitability cannot be sustained by selling undifferentiated farm commodities, such as corn, hogs, cattle, or wheat, in global markets dominated by large agribusiness corporations. Profits can be sustained only by providing customers with food and fiber products that are different from, and of more value than, the products they find in the supermarkets and department stores. This is perhaps the most difficult aspect of sustainable farm economics, because it is the biggest stretch from traditional farm management. However, corporatization of agriculture has resulted in an agricultural sector in which the individual farmer will not be able to compete, even if they are competitive in terms of price and quality. The corporations have sufficient power in the marketplace to deny market access to farmers who are not willing to sign comprehensive production contracts and settle for the role of land lord or contract laborer. It’s no longer a matter of efficiency, but rather of market power.

Agri-tech is the use of technology for farming that is developed to improve efficiency and profitability. While most commonly used in horticulture and agriculture, agri-tech is also found in forestry, aquaculture and viticulture.

Agri-tech aims to improve farming through information monitoring and analysis of weather, pests, soil and air temperature. Agri-tech also includes the use of automation.