Customers who choose Farmplan, stay with Farmplan.
And so, too, do our staff.
We are proud of our strong relationship with our customers. In fact, on average, our customers stay with us for more than 10 years. But behind our loyal customers and our market-leading software, is our dedicated and committed team.
Sally and Jim Ashwell have been married for 31 years and have worked at Farmplan for a total of 73 years between them!
Here, you can read more about their time at Farmplan and how technology (and Farmplan!) has evolved over the years.
Question Time with Sally and Jim Ashwell
When did you join Farmplan and why?
Sally – I first joined Farmplan in 1983. I had done a degree in Agriculture and my first job out of university was doing the record keeping at an agricultural college for their in-house farms and horticultural units. It was actually quite a dull job but the highlight for me was being able to source and buy a brand new Apple II Europlus computer with all of the Farmplan software. I was so proud of my extremely expensive computer and managed to persuade the college principal that I needed lots of training as it involved stays away from work. That meant I got to know the Farmplan staff well and I was ‘poached’ – a very sore point with the principal especially when my successor, Cherry, also came to work at Farmplan a few years later and is also still here.
Jim – Both sets of my Grandparents were in farming (one was a farmer and one was a miller) and I had spent many summer holidays working in agriculture at different levels. I started picking fruit and potatoes, moved on to bale carting using a pitchfork, to ending up spending the whole summer on an Arable and Pig farm. I was therefore able to put together my degree in Maths and Computing with my interest in agriculture, and work for Farmplan. I joined Farmplan International in November 1984 and started work on adapting software that was built for UK customers for use in other countries.
Tell us about your career progression over the years:
Sally – I was taken on to set up a regional office to cover all the support and training to our customers in the eastern third of the country. I was based in Stamford, Lincolnshire for 5 years but then the decision was made to close our regional offices and move all our customer services back to Head Office in Ross on Wye, Herefordshire.
I was relocated and became the Adviceline Manager for the whole UK customer base. I left for a couple of years, again as a customer working for a big Accountancy firm in their agricultural department where I picked up a lot of useful experience. In the meantime Jim and I had married and I left the accountants when I had children to concentrate on them when they were babies, still doing some testing work for Farmplan on the side. I came back officially in 1994, initially part time on the phone support to work round school but am now our Product Co-ordinator which involves liaising between our development and support teams. Most of my time is spent testing new features and new software and writing documentation.
Jim – The first new product I started work on was a Crop Planning and Costing program that was developed using an in house 4GL, on Apple IIe and IBM micros. After a while the office in Northallerton moved to join the UK team in Ross on Wye. Here I continued to develop functionality for the Crop software. After a while in Ross on Wye I moved on to helping the team that developed the financial software, taking on different roles until I became the Lead Developer of it. The mid 90’s saw us start a substantial project to re-write the financial software using Visual FoxPro, which was first released in 1996. Many iterations later, we are now working to replace this with a cloud version.
What’s been your proudest moment with Farmplan?
Sally – I am very proud of all our products and my colleagues for all sorts of reasons but in 2019 HMRC introduced a new method of submitting VAT returns electronically called Making Tax Digital which involved participation from everyone at Farmplan to make it as stress free as possible for our customers. It was really well received and resulted in a large increase in sales as well. I felt everyone deserved a pat on the back so submitted an entry to the RBI Brilliance Awards which we were delighted to win.
Jim – You mean apart from meeting my wife at Farmplan? My proudest moment was probably the release of the FoxPro Business Manager. It had seen approximately 25 man years of work come together in a product that was well received by the market.
How have things changed over the years?
Sally – Things have changed massively over the years. I started when an Apple IIE with 2 floppy (and they were floppy) disk drives and a dot matrix printer cost the same amount as a small car so only the very biggest farmers could afford one. We just could not have imagined things like the internet and the power of cloud based applications. When we released a new update to our programs everyone in the company had to sit feeding disks into copying machines and stuffing envelopes so imagine the stress when a bug was found and it had to be re-released.
Pre GDPR we had a big map in the office which showed where all our customers lived with a key next to it so everyone could see their contact details. Farming is a very small tight nit world and anyone visiting our offices for training courses loved to see which neighbours also had Farmplan.
In those earlier days Farmplan was a privately owned business but was bought out by Reed Elsevier in 2000 which meant a huge culture shock, mostly in a good way as it meant that we had the backing of RELX behind us.
Jim – My hours when I started were 8.30 till 6.00. The machines we worked with were insignificant by modern standards, but even then they were considered amazing and did things that people hadn’t seen before. HR didn’t exist. Now the machines we use are enormously more powerful (but so has what people expect to be able to do with them), and HR support all aspects of our working lives.
What do you feel is the best thing about working at Farmplan?
Sally – Definitely my colleagues. I am still friends with people I worked with 30 years ago but even with all the many changes of faces over the years we have always worked as a team with a shared passion for the agricultural industry and our customers.
Jim – I have enjoyed working with people that love the subject matter that they are dealing with. Farming is a career that demands the commitment to do what needs to be done when it needs to be done. Much of this attitude is found in people from farming families, and there are several of them working at Farmplan.
What’s made you stay at Farmplan for so long?
Sally – Probably the fear I will miss out on something!
Jim – Farmplan has always worked as a team and being part of a successful team is a very positive experience.
Looking forward, what does the future hold for you at Farmplan?
Sally – Occasionally it occurs to me that I am old enough to be many of my colleagues’ mother so I suppose retirement is getting relatively close but at the minute I am excited to be very closely involved with the 4th complete rewrite of our flag ship accounts program – very different from the original DOS offering but in some ways with many of the same core values.
Jim – I think the main thing that I want to see happen before I stop is that Farmplan is moving forward with the new financial product in place, established as the best product in its class.
What advice would you give to someone just starting out at Farmplan?
Sally – Always remember the end user – there are lots of very clever tools and technology in use but at Farmplan we never forget that our customers are first and foremost farmers, not IT experts, and they come to us so that we will make their lives easier and more efficient without having to know about the techy jargon under the bonnet.
Jim – Be positive and work hard. See every problem as an opportunity to provide an answer.