Entrepreneur and co-founder of Jucker Farm AG. Jucker Farm AG’s four farm experience locations offer professionally organized corporate events and seminars, and are a popular leisure destination with farm shops, restaurants and changing seasonal attractions. Their mission is making agriculture an experience. In his management role, Martin Jucker is responsible for sustainability and strategic development.
Watch an extract from the interview
Why do you think companies are so creative and flexible in times of crisis?
It’s the survival mode that kicks in. Everyone has just one goal: save the business, safeguard jobs. And structure the business so that it doesn’t just get through the crisis but offers jobs and income beyond it as well. As a result, our people were all very flexible. Customers too. This point shouldn’t be underestimated. In normal times, you can only make changes as quickly as customers are able to grow with you. You can’t just wreck everything. But in our coronavirus times, everything was suddenly different. Employees were cursing, of course, but also accepting. Customers were annoyed, but also accepting. Blame and anger wasn’t directed at us, but at the virus. It meant that we could implement changes extremely quickly and make quite a leap forward. We had all the resources from our restaurant business at our disposal – plus great weather. This helped us on the agricultural side.
Employees were cursing, of course, but also accepting. Customers were annoyed, but also accepting. It meant that we could make quite a leap forward.
Was there anything you forgot about?
Definitely, there were lots of things we didn’t know in advance. Early on we were worried because we hadn’t managed to get hold of protective personal equipment for our employees. Luckily, that issue resolved itself somewhat. But that’s one area where we certainly didn’t do our homework. We also found ourselves under a lot of pressure due to border closures and the associated issue of harvest helpers. But we now have a plan in place with an external partner for efficiently placing people in agricultural jobs. It wasn’t easy though and cost us a lot of energy.
For your business as a whole, what are the next concrete steps?
At the moment, we’re running at about 40 percent of what would be normal for our overall business. Events will soon be allowed again. But that’s not to say that companies will actually hold their events with us. This market has shifted completely and nobody knows how the conference business will develop. Weddings tend to have a long run-up, so that’s tricky too. But our Sunday brunch is booked up for the coming weeks. Then we have to ask whether revenue from our farm shops will fall again. A little bit, certainly, as people can eat out more again. But we’re hoping that some of our customers will become regulars. We’re focusing on our own farmhouse products and different varieties. We’ve been pursuing a differentiation strategy for years in this area and it should, in theory, help us now. Throughout, we’re keeping an eye on costs and safeguarding liquidity to survive a second wave if it comes. And you have to assume it will.
Every crisis can be a big opportunity. Where do you stand in terms of new technology like smart farming?
We already have a good level of mechanization. But the majority of our crops still require manual work. There have been countless attempts to create harvest robots for asparagus or strawberries; but all have failed so far. There are some mechanical possibilities for specialty crops that we could push ahead with more, but we have a different approach. Rather than taking a step forward, we prefer to take a step back and let nature work for us. Instead of relying on people and machines, we want to let natural processes take effect and do some of the jobs for us. That’s why we work with a much larger variety of species and try to keep monoculture to a minimum. In our orchards, for example, we add specific plants that keep fungi at bay – and protect our fruit trees. We want to restore the natural system. So we don’t think about our produce in terms of single crops, but as a variety of plants that help each other. In practice, that means years of development work and investment. After all, you can’t force biodiversity, you can only develop it.
Do you have any future recommendations for our readers?
I don’t like to make recommendations. But I can share what we’ve been able to do in the last few months. We consistently focused on opportunities, but we always took a long-term, not a short-term, view. Ultimately that is my recommendation to any entrepreneur: improve the sustainable approach of your business wherever possible. And just forget about the rest for a bit; you can pick it up again later.
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