About the farmer with no land

March 7, 2017

If this inspires you. Then it inspires you and I will not take anything from it.

That you can very well say is my nature. As if I have nothing good to say, then in all likelyhood I much prefer to keep quiet.

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‘If you ask me….farming is really only about one thing. Money. Specifically maximising one’s return on investment.

I am mindful what I have to say about farming differs only very slightly from how one might run a factory or for that matter any other commercial enterprise under the sun. I do however apologise profusely for this prosaic take especially if it happens to spoil your sentimental views concerning how I have always viewed this vocation. But to me the money formula will always be at the forefront of all other considerations.

Thereafter other things may certainly follow in their wake….but first and foremost it has to all make excel spreadsheet sense otherwise it’s no bloody good!

Can farming be edifying to the soul? Can it nourish the human spirit? Can it even be a prescriptive cure for autism?

That is not for me to answer.

Understand this clearly! If I am going to sit down with you with a row of very serious planters in a meeting. It’s not going to be pretty sight. As firstly no one on my side is ever going to indulge in such talk. You could even say, we much rather stick to the business end of matters and that is really all that matters to us.

Truth is each of us venture into business for our own personal reasons….only as I said earlier and it bears repeating only because what I have to share happens to be an omnipresent reality – ultimately any business proposition has to first make hard nose commercial sense. That simply means, the enterprise proposed must be able to maximise yield on every square milimeter of land. Otherwise my advice is don’t ever step into that conference room because you wouldn’t have either the business maturity to come across as competent or for that leverage on the balance of power to negotiate a good deal!

For me it is very clear – if you’re a restauranter in Boat Quay hoping to get a few pots of thyme. Then I say, I don’t have time for you! I can even state categorically the probability of you being able to talk to me stands at zero. Please understand. This is not personal. It’s strictly business. As I don’t nearly have the latitude to chase small fry. If you happen to be a hotel chain or supermarket with serious volume. We might probably touch base. Go for a round of Golf and even finish off the evening over a bottle of cellared wine.

Just as if I am going to make a bid for a land concession to grow let’s say coffee to the Singapore government – I don’t ever expect the otherside to cut me any slack when they ask, can we see your five year financial projections? Just as I don’t ever expect anyone on the otherside to bear out patiently my personal recount on how magical it is for a farmer to watch the sun set with his dog.

I will negotiate hard….the other side will sweat bullets…but to do this. I must be certain that I can cut the supply of cash crops from Malaysia…to me this is a form of war that is not so different from laying seige to a castle.

Please understand. I am not throwing cold water on your dream….I just feel the need to inject reality into this picture.

As at the end of the day it all boils down to money. Money. Money and very little else. But perhaps only money.

I am not saying self actualization and the means to find yourself is not there….somewhere in farming. It is. Just as it might exist in probably all other vocations as well.

Only you will find no one will ever buy your produce or even hand you a land concession…if you don’t bother to pay respect to their imperative to rent seek based on commercial rates. So perhaps what I am really saying is farming cannot be so different from the business rules and conventions of all other enterprises.

That is the defining difference between the professional planter and the hobbyist gardener. The former always has the end in mind from the very beginning. He’s always fixated on the nuts and bolts of the profit margin and along with how best to maximise yield per hectare. Above all he is the man who pays respect to the business imperative of the those who sit across him and institutions in the long table.

As for the tinkerer, let us just say he has his own Dao. He’s a free spirit whose beholden to an ideal that is not real.

Why am I spending so much time on fleshing out the ‘right’ attitude? Why is it so important?

Because I don’t ever want anyone to buy into the belief commercial farming can be such a thing that is so far removed from all other enterprises. Or perpetuate the sugary illusion where it might work with a bunch of post modernist gypsies who harbor the valecdorian dream that it’s a way of reclaiming the soul. No! It is a very serious endeavour that requires the highest level of professionalism and skill of arms.

As it is the only business in the world where the farmer buys everything on retail and sells all his produce at wholesale.

Above all this is a vocation that requires a hard no nonsense man who sees the world prosaically without the slightest trace of illusions – by this I mean. To hell with all these herb gardens! All those small and insignificant stuff are not going to get you that Hondajet. That’s not going to make one dent on the broader issue of food security and sustainable urban farming in Singapore.

For urban farming to work. It first has to make commercial sense. That’s to say it has to be profitable and efficiently operated. Whether it rest well on the eyes or smells nice is not important to me – the only thing that matters to me is money!

Run around if you want too – but at the end of the day. What you’ll find is what I have to say on this subject can only be true in every sense of the word when we speak about farming in Singapore.

Business is war!

Forgive me if I happen to see the world in such cold, narrow and metallic terms.’

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