Suffolk author of the latest Farm Office Handbook - dubbed ‘the Bible’ shares her tips

Jenny Pine, a farm secretary and lead author of the Farm Office Handbook. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Jenny Pine, a farm secretary and lead author of the Farm Office Handbook. Picture: GREGG BROWN - Credit: Gregg Brown

Staying on top of the paperwork is one of the scerets to running a successful farm, says Jenny Pine, of Agriconsult Ltd, based at Shimpling, near Bury St Edmunds.

Jenny Pine, a farm secretary and lead author of the Farm Office Handbook. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Jenny Pine, a farm secretary and lead author of the Farm Office Handbook. Picture: GREGG BROWN - Credit: Gregg Brown

Jenny, Suffolk branch chairman and former national chairman of the Institute of Agricultural Secretaries and Administrators (IAgSA), is lead author of the latest Farm Office Handbook and runs Agriconsult Ltd, a farm secretarial business,

These days, fully trained farm secretaries are in short supply. Farm secretarial courses are scarce, and the Farm Office ‘bible’, launched earlier this month by IAgSA, is in demand as farmers strive to keep on top of the many administrative demands of the job.

A mother of three grown-up sons, Jenny, now a grandmother, got her training at a full-time residential course at Riseholm Agricultural College near Lincoln in the 1970s. The training was comprehensive, although later she had to learn her IT skills on the job and through online courses.

There are, of course, farmers who have not kept up with the times and “don’t spend enough time in the farm office”, she admits.

Jenny Pine, a farm secretary and lead author of the Farm Office Handbook. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Jenny Pine, a farm secretary and lead author of the Farm Office Handbook. Picture: GREGG BROWN - Credit: Gregg Brown

“I can’t believe that deep down they don’t realise how important it is. It’s really important. You have to keep on top of the paperwork. You have to do it as it happens,” she says.

“We are in the middle of an IT revolution. We are gradually heading towards paperless and it’s a good opportunity but a lot of these farmers still have paper-based systems.”

Most Read

It’s the small farmers that will really suffer in the long run, she believes, as rapid technnological developments take hold, as the larger ones with economies of scale can be insulated from the effects.

“We are experiencing rapid technical development at the moment – cloud based accounting systems, more automation of repetitive tasks, wide use of online banking,” she says.

Jenny Pine, a farm secretary and lead author of the Farm Office Handbook. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Jenny Pine, a farm secretary and lead author of the Farm Office Handbook. Picture: GREGG BROWN - Credit: Gregg Brown

“When I started with him over 10 years ago my main duties were bookkeeping and wages etc, but now I am more of a team member rather than someone who comes in once a week to ‘do the books’. I get involved with properties lets, recruitment pensions and general staff issues, contract farming agreements, environmental schemes and health and safety legislation.”

The added duties reflect the growing complexities of farm businesses, many of which now have diversifications which run alongside the farming operations.

Jenny, daughter of the late Richard Seabrook, a shepherd based at Ickworth Park, has supported tagging of Shimpling’s flock of 650 New Zealand Romney ewes, which were introduced in 2014 ago to help improve soil fertility.

Her brother, Paul Seabrook, and sister, Gilliam Mackinnon, carried on their father’s National Trust tenancy at Ickworth. Jenny’s husband, Ted Pine, is a former lecturer at Chadacre Agricultural Institute.

Jenny Pine, a farm secretary and lead author of the Farm Office Handbook. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Jenny Pine, a farm secretary and lead author of the Farm Office Handbook. Picture: GREGG BROWN - Credit: Gregg Brown

Sophisticated monitoring is used on the Shimpling sheep and the two freelance shepherds who run the flock include her son, Will Pine.

The farm office consists of four desks, computers, a couple of dogs and often two to three people.

“It’s generally a quiet, productive and pleasant working environment and, as I live about a mile away, I generally bike or walk to work,” she says.

Jenny made many good friends during her time as national chairman of IAgSA in 1998 and is involved in developing the IAgSA training and mentoring programme.

Since last autumn, she has been mentoring Hannah Stevenson, whose main client is arable and vegetable farmers R C Browne and Son, based at Fornham All Saints.

“She’s able to tap into my experience of different software programs, pension auto enrolment, VAT,” she says.

For her own part, it’s a career that she has found very fulfilling.

“It is a very varied job and has a seasonal element. No two days are the same, which keeps it interesting.”