• Rob Hughes
  • Shropshire

Business for Rob Hughes, a Shropshire Agrovista agronomist, went from strength to strength this year, despite the loss of one of his favourite crops from the region.

“It has been my most successful year in the business,” he says. That has been down to a combination of factors, not least the upturn in commodity prices for much of this year’s cropping season encouraging greater input use by farmers. But Rob has also gained clients in the past year, and increased area on existing clients’ farms.

He has also rebounded from the loss of sugar beet with the closure of Allscott sugar beet factory. “It was a huge part of my career – on numerous farms I was doing beet exclusively. I liked the strictness of beet agronomy you had to be there every week.”

Losing the crop left a hole in his portfolio, but also created an opportunity for Rob to help with advice to clients about what to replace the crop with, and freed up time to take on a larger area of combinable crops. It also allowed him to develop what he terms AgriBusiness clients farm managers walking their own fields, but with him providing strategic technical advice at key times during the season.

Most other clients are service accounts, where Rob supplies agronomy and chemical in a bundled package.

Even so, that doesn’t stop him looking at ways to cut input and other costs, where appropriate, for his growers.

Changes he has helped Tony Heal, for example, make to his potato business have resulted in £50,000 savings for the farm by producing potatoes better equipped to survive long-term storage. More disciplined blight spray scheduling, together with improved chemistry, and better potato cyst nematode sampling have combined to improve crop quality, Tony says.

“We don’t get the breakdowns in store.”

Hughes-large.gif

Rob has also looked at ways to reduce fertiliser bills – he sees it as one of his main challenges in the next few years. At Mr Heal’s a review of fertiliser use has dramatically reduced the number of grades being used, and created a strategy allowing him to use poultry muck from the farm’s poultry unit more effectively. “There’s been a significant saving,” Rob says.

He has also explored new opportunities for growers in the region, such as growing maize under plastic film, after sourcing the necessary equipment from Ireland for a former beet contractor. “We’ve got three farms doing it this season and are looking to expand.”

But he regards one of his finest business achievements to be encouraging and supporting one of his customers to continue farming. “He was ready to pack it in after years of low returns and the difficulties with growing potatoes, which were labour-intensive and required a lot of capital. The business was going in the wrong direction.”

Rob persuaded him to move out of potatoes and increase his sugar beet area, and then, after the beet price reduced, to switch into oilseed rape. Machinery was sold, establishment switched to min-till and a return to carrying out his own combining was made. Contractors were used for spraying and applying liquid fertilisers. The result was a business that required only one man plus some part-time help, with pared-down costs, Rob says.

“He’s pleased he did it now he’s a farmer again and enjoying helping his son, who is keen to carry on with the farm.” It is getting that involved in a business that Rob really enjoys.

“It is the key thing I pride myself on. I like to get to know how a business ticks. When I do that, I can help make changes to improve it.”

Agrovista’s Rob Hughes has expanded his combinable crops area.

What the judges liked
  • Provides good professional service
  • Excellent use of technology
  • Good vision in seeing opportunities for clients
  • Provides help and training for other agronomists

Adviser facts

  • Agrovista agronomist covering Shropshire and surrounding area
  • Provides agronomy and chemical to 25 clients covering 3500ha (8750 acres)
  • Strategic and business advice offered to additional clients
  • Concentrates on improving crop and arable enterprise performance