Monday, 23 July 2012

Morning all!

Summer next week, just in time for the farm harvest we hope. Although we don’t have much to do with all the work involved it is always a relief to see one part of the family doing well and the crops in the barns. Early days yet but there were some anxious farmers about with all this dampness over the summer so far. At least with the light chalky ground we are on they will be able to get on with it as soon as the crops are ready, assuming the rain holds off for a bit.

Although world prices of cereals have done ok in the last couple of years, the dairy farmers are not fairing so well as we have seen in the news this week. For ages now they have been pressured by the ever increasing power of the last remaining big milk companies and their main customers, the supermarkets. They were already complaining of producing at cost or below before cuts of 4p+ a litre were imposed this year, no wonder they have taken to blockading the dairies. The supermarkets blame the competitive consumer market place but I don’t see them operating at a loss. They have the power and they aren’t afraid to use it,  you have to wonder what the long term cost will be of their bullying tactics to provide us with cheap stuff?

I had a trip out this week to an HDC herbaceous group meeting to see what research they are up to and to ask us how we would like them to proceed. Not usually my cup of tea but it was nice to find an excuse to meet up with other growers and also visit another nursery. After such a difficult season it was reassuring to hear of everyone else’s tales of woe and to see that our nursery doesn’t look too bad either. In a year like this it is very easy to lose confidence in lots of areas.  Although the next year is going to be really tough I am feeling like it is time to take things forward again. This was timed well to fit in with our ongoing training programme in Lean Management. We have just finished week 3 and started on our first improvement project in the potting shed which already looked pretty slick but has now stepped up into another league. Not only is it much better but we can now see even more improvements to follow on in future developments. Although at first it does look a bit like we have just had a major spring clean, it does go much deeper than that. The team have come up with machine design, work process and work place organisational changes to reset how we work in that area. One of the clever bits was designing into the process the elimination, where possible of making any mess.  This makes big tidying up sessions and trip hazards etc things of the past. The test will be to see if we can sustain the new practices, it certainly looks good at the moment. Over the next few weeks we will have to sort out other areas for everyone to do their own smaller group projects on, the list is already growing as everyone starts to see the potential benefits we could all gain from this.

Eco News

Only a few more days to go before the first anniversary of the starting up of the wind turbines. It looks like we are going to be slightly down on predicted output, probably about 10% down although 6.5% of that was due to turbine downtime with the initial teething stoppages we had during the first year. So to be only 2.5% out on predicted wind speeds over just one year is close enough for me. Let’s hope the next year see’s fewer stoppages as the turbines settle in and the jackdaws are kept out. The annual service is next week so hopefully they will report back that all is ok. Caroline was hoping for a trip up the tower if it wasn’t too windy but she’s not sure if the broken arm is recovered enough yet. I suspect it might have to be next year.

I can’t remember if I mentioned that we have now fitted more LED lights in the lab growth room. This will extend the trial we started 9 months ago and will start paying back their relatively high cost in saved energy and reduced cooling requirement. We now have 8 of our 114 lights as LED’s which saves approx 5kWhrs per day, not a lot but it all adds up. Had we had a better year we would fit more but cash is tight and the initial costs are high. At the moment we are replacing light units as they wear out which does help towards the cost.

If you need a fax list please let us know, pick it up from the website or alternately send an email address.
Have a good week, from all at Kirton Farm Nurseries

Monday, 16 July 2012

There always seems to be so much stuff happening, the weeks just flash by. This week not only did we have quite a few orders to put together but managed to fit in one day’s bank preparation for the bank managers visit, another days Lean Management training for everyone, a turbine visit from one of the local villages and a night out for Caroline and I to see Adam Ant in concert.

The highlight, after Adam of course, was the bank visit and having to come clean about the difficult season and the knock on effects that will have over the coming year for us. Luckily having a specialist manager worked brilliantly, he was well aware of the extraordinary weather issues and was pleasantly surprised that we were not as badly off as some of his other customers. The preliminary figures are not pretty and will still knock us back, but it was great to hear the bank looking to the longer term, being very supportive in sorting out extra financial backing and encouraging us to look to next season and beyond rather than dwelling too long on the fallout from this season. That was great news and certainly helped on the sleeping front the following night! Phew.

Talking of looking to the future our lean management training is bowling along nicely and a few ideas are beginning to come together on how we can making little tweeks to different areas and further improve our performance. It’s great to have everyone doing it together and looking at everything with a bit of a fresh eye, it should be quite refreshing for all.

Anyway the real excitement was the Adam Ant concert last night in Basingstoke which brought back a few memories. I saw him in 1979 in Southampton just as Dog Eat Dog was in the charts and when it was mainly a punk audience. He uses two drum sets which creates such a drive and the guitarists were brilliant. Adam did his thing, although I felt he was justly slightly embarrassed by his Prince Charming phase. Overall a great rock and roll show. What is going on with audiences though? It would appear that there aren’t many who can just go and be blown away, they have to constantly hold up their phones filming the whole event. We were about half way back and all we could see was the glow of phones held aloft all around the stage. It should have been a seething mass of dancing bodies which would have created a great party atmosphere but most were stood perfectly still so that the pictures recorded didn’t jiggle! Rather than witnessing a live in-person performance they watched it on a tiny screen. Why not get a DVD and watch that? They can watch it back and show their friends recalling their night out watching the back of their phone whereas I have it in my head where it can look and sound a lot better and even improve over time! Live life, don’t just record it.

Eco News
Got our last Scottish & Southern electric bill this week before we change supplier and I suspect they read my last newsletter.
They managed to forget to refund the interim payments we have made over the last 3 months for the Triad charges that would have been charged next winter if we had stayed with them. I have had to send an email explaining the situation to my account manager for him to work out how to settle the balance as there was some debate as to whether we wouldn’t get it back until after the triad payments are declared at the end of next March! This is the company who are so proud of their customer service!

Lovely group of villagers from King Somboune came for a look at the turbines on Friday evening, all quite excited by their visit and getting up close and personal with the turbines. All very positive stuff and nice to hear that there are no rumblings of revolt among the natives.

If you need a fax list please let us know, pick it up from the website or alternately send an email address.

Have a good week, from all at Kirton Farm Nurseries

Monday, 9 July 2012

Yesterday was a bit of a wash out and today is Andy’s big day which might put the brakes on Sunday afternoon sales. Still can’t complain really can we, what a roll we are on, and I don’t mean just how many weekends in a season could be pants for selling plants! We got a men’s doubles winner yesterday, Andy in the final, the leader in the Tour de France, a nice wet Gran d Prix, England walloped the Aussies in the cricket, Southampton are in the premiership, loads of gold medals to come in the Olympics and the Queen won the Jubilee. Just so much excitement it’s such a shame about the weather, it just seems endlessly miserable for so many. We have tried to keep positive on the nursery and kept potting new stock assuming at some point things will move along a bit and we will need to find something to sell and to be fair we have kept up with last year for the last few weeks, but we had been hoping for a little more. Still we can’t do much about the weather, let’s hope the bank manager is understanding when he visits later in the week.

We’ve been looking to the future this week with the start of some Lean Management training for virtually all the crew. This spring has brought into focus how important it is going to be to run the business as efficiently and professionally as we can over the next couple of seasons to try and recover from this one year and we hope this training will help us all make a few tweaks towards that recovery. First day was fun after an early morning session on Health and Safety we progressed onto playing with Lego bricks by the afternoon which was much more my scene. I think it’s got people thinking a bit, now we just need to learn how we can apply some of what we saw into our workplace. We have got a bit of homework to do before next week but nothing too taxing, although it does involve looking at our work areas in different ways which could be refreshing.

I need to press on the morning is whizzing by and I have too much to do. 25,000 tubs and lids to count and pack for the lab, seeds to sow (do I leave these until after the bank manager has been? Might not need any plants for next year!), irrigation to sort out (yes even in this rain) and figures to conjure up for the visit (maybe the bank will be on the back foot after all the banking scandal’s of late).

Eco News

Cold wet weather probably not helping swallows and house martins. We seemed a bit short on young swallows last night in the roost but hopefully there are ok. We have certainly lost a few of the very young house martins which have fallen or been ejected from the nest although there still seems to be a reasonable amount of feeding activity going on.

Great year for slugs and snails and I am not sure the current frog and toad population is up to the task. There are plenty about but too many small ones without the stomach capacity for the size of brutes we have sliming about at the moment.

We moved our turbine FIT and export contracts this month to Good Energy from SSE. I haven’t heard a lot from either side on progress although I know the wheels are turning as I did get an email from SSE confirming a change. Because they were so proud of their customer service levels they did ask if I could let them know why we were changing. Usually I don’t bother with answering this sort of request but they caught me on a wet day and in the mood for a rant. I listed a whole host of cock-ups, inefficiencies and rip-off contracts that they dealt out last year and said if they needed some more feedback please feel free to contact me again and I will add to the list. Well they did ask. To be fair they did reply, not with any excuses but said that they would pass on my comments.

If you need a fax list please let us know, pick it up from the website or alternately send an email address.
Have a good week from all at Kirtonf Farm Nurseries

Monday, 2 July 2012

I can’t believe it’s July already. If we don’t let on perhaps the gardening public will still think we are coming out of winter and there is still plenty of time yet to do up the garden. I think that’s the gist of the HTA summer planting campaign, let’s hope it has some impact. Unfortunately I was just too busy earlier this week to get up to the HTA National Plant Show at Stoneleigh. I had been meaning to go, just to suss out if we ought to bite the bullet and show there. Last year we did the GAN show in Bournemouth and the Woking Show which were great for covering most of our customer area, but they are no more and we have no shows at all this year. They are usually great therapy, everyone can have a moan together or get excited about the coming season, I hope The HTA show had a positive therapeutic vibe for all those attending, I suspect there were some fairly desperate buyers and sellers after such a challenging season.

No great surprise to hear that April, May and June made the record books as the wettest for 100 years. Not to worry there is always next year, that could be even wetter!

Lots to look forward to over the next few weeks, Andy is still there, football final tonight and Olympics round the corner.

Hopefully it won’t get too hot and we will all get carried away on a wave of plant buying euphoria.

Had a very exciting week reviewing and updating some risk and fire assessments on the nursery. Sometimes it is a bit tricky knowing when to stop putting up advisory stickers etc on pinch hazards, slip and trip risks etc. On doing a bit of internet research I did find one establishment who highlighted the pinch hazard of sitting down on the toilet seat in their assessment . I did draw the line there.

Eco News

Another windy week, June was the windiest month so far in 2012, just beating January.

Baby frogs all over the place this week, have to be careful where you tread in some areas.

Swallows have fledged and quite a few house martins have hatched. Hopefully the weather is kind to them, if we get a high success rate on the fledging we will have more martins flying around the house and nursery than ever before.

If you need a fax list please let us know, pick it up from the website or alternately send an email address. Have a good week, from all at Kirton Farm Nurseries