After the year that was 2020 (no explanation required there!), with a global pandemic and Brexit to contend with, like many industries worldwide, we’ve experienced a bit of a shakeup. As we navigate our way through 2021, we thought we’d catch up with Neil Birkett: GB & Export Feeds Fats Manager at Megalac’s parent company, Volac International & Volac Wilmar Feed Ingredients, for his take on all things Covid-19, Brexit and beyond.
First things first – let’s focus on the work Neil does within Volac and the dairy industry as a whole.
Neil, please tell us a little about yourself and your role at Volac.
I came to Volac in August 2012 as part of the Ecosyl acquisition, having been with Ecosyl since 2005 / 2006. My role here includes commercial responsibilities for feed fats in Great Britain and technical support for customers across Great Britain and Ireland.
In my export role, I look after numerous countries - ranging from Iceland to Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, Greece, Spain and some middle eastern countries among others, where I look after all Volac and Volac Wilmar products.
What was your highlight of 2020?
Totally un-work-related on the face of it, but the birth of my first grandchild, Noah, was a massive event for me and really changed my values and priorities. He really puts life into perspective.
What challenges have you faced this year, and what have they taught you?
I was lucky enough to visit my customers in Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Turkey before the first lockdown in March 2020. Continuing those relationships via Zoom and email has been a challenge, with us all learning as we go along, but has proven successful. It was definitely good to have got in some quality face-to-face support early in 2020, to set things up for the year ahead.
I have missed traveling to meet with all customers in both home markets and export, and of course, I have missed the social engagement and banter with colleagues.
I have, however, learned that although we can engage with customers successfully, our world has changed and the days of driving or flying to meetings will be the exception, not the rule.
Have aspects of your role changed in light of the pandemic? How have you remained positive?
My role is constantly changing, which keeps me motivated, and my outlook positive. The pandemic has thrown in some monotony and repetition, particularly with the absence of travel and the new focus on ‘virtual’ communications, but overall I’m positive.
How do you think Covid-19 has affected the industry long term?
I think the day of the traditional sales representative is now over - no longer will it be acceptable to just call in on a farm for a chat. The salesperson of today and tomorrow will only find themselves useful if they can genuinely add value to that farm’s business and that is going to be tough with in-person communications limited. Covid has meant that working practices will need to be reviewed, and people in the supply sector will need to up-skill and adapt to survive. It’s not an easy task in an industry such as dairy farming, where our customers aren’t necessarily glued to a computer screen.
What are you most excited about in 2021?
I quite like new innovations such as on-farm cow monitoring systems like Smaxtec and the value they add through early detection with regards to overall health, reproduction, and digestion. I’m also looking forward to improved feed ration programs that incorporate more up to date information about fatty acids and optimising cow nutrition.
Now we get a little personal as Neil divulges details on his hidden talents and must-haves for daily survival.
Tell us about your puppy, Otis?
He’s a ……..!, no really he’s lovely, and he came at a perfect time - just as my wife retired and went part-time, so he’s great company. He is now a huge, clumsy and stroppy teenager, but we love him!
Do you have a hidden talent?
I’m pretty good at tying artificial flies for trout fishing… perfect for weekend relaxation!
Which country is on your travel bucket list?
I have two. New Zealand and Alaska - both worlds away from what we know in the UK, in different ways.
What couldn’t you go a day without?
Like many in the agricultural industry – a good cup of tea!
Cheers to that!
Thanks to Neil for his time, and unwavering support here at Megalac. It’s clear that the last year has seen many changes in working practices and the dairy industry as a whole, that look like they are here to stay.
How has the Coronavirus pandemic affected the way you work? Have you noticed a change in your overall mindset and work/life outlook as a result? Join the conversation with us here Volac Wilmar Feed Ingredients on LinkedIn or Twitter.