Ian Burrows is the worthy winner of a closely contested category that saw three contrasting finalists compete for the title of 2012 Farmers Weekly Diversification Farmer of the Year.

Ian has secured a future for his family’s 105ha farm by growing and supplying high quality Timothy grass hay products to the pet market. From a standing start, his self-belief has turned Newhay Feeds into a business with an annual turnover of more than £750,000.

His relentless drive and enthusiasm for innovation – and his determination to get new products to market – meant Ian pipped the other two finalists at the post. By embracing new-thinking, he shows it is possible for smaller family farms to thrive, not just survive.

He has used lessons learned from other industries to make his own business a success. These include applying the same sort of stringent quality-control methods used in the equine feed sector to create a new market for affordable, high-quality herbivore feeds for small pets.

Farm Facts: Newhay Feeds, West End Farm, Woodhall, near Selby, North Yorkshire
  • 105ha arable farm
  • Family-owned farming business
  • Diversification started in 2006
  • Turnover increased from £30k to more than £750k

As well as natural Timothy hay – virtually unheard of as a pet feed just a few years ago, products include the Complete Food Cube. This is a compressed cube of hay with added vitamins and nutrients that offers up to seven days’ total feed in the form of a single briquette.

The path to success has meant overcoming a number of challenges – not least how to produce consistently high-quality hay in the UK’s inclement climate. But a scientific approach to problem-solving has seen six new products reaching the shop shelves.

With a background in the textile industry, Mr Burrows used shirley drums rather than cyclones to extract dust and spores, developing an entire process enabling him to produce long-fibred Timothy hay that stayed green and matched the demands of his customers exactly.

It has involved a steep learning curve – not just on the farm. Ian has educated retail buyers as well as consumers about the benefits of his products – all the time investing in market research to ensure they are tailor-made for the strict requirements of the target market.

Winning Ways
  • Innovative product development
  • Focus on marketing and research
  • Attention to detail
  • Vision and determination

Feed manufacturer Burgess Pet Care has become a key partner. Everything is sold and marketed through Burgess – including to national retailer Pets At Home, which Ian won over by hosting an open day in a gazebo on one of his hay fields.

“Ian’s infectious enthusiasm has transformed a commodity many farmers take for granted into a high-value product that is sought after by consumers. His innovative and imaginative approach – and his willingness to build partnerships with like-minded companies – has created new products and a new market that is changing the way people feed their pets.
Alan Spedding, Rural consultant

Not afraid of hard work, it hasn’t all been plain sailing. Creating a new market has required a big leap of faith. But it has transformed the farm from a small arable business into a cutting-edge enterprise that is at the forefront of innovative agriculture.

“It was never a matter of trying to add on a quick new revenue stream,” says Ian. “We wanted to reinvent our core farming business – so much so that what we do now makes up the whole business.

“It was harder this way but has ensured we’ve thrived, not just survived.”

Sponsor’s view

FirestoneIt is always important that we all look for fresh opportunities to grow our businesses and maximise the use of our resources, which is why Firestone is championing this award. The diversification award recognises innovation and achievement – and we applaud these farmers who have all found new ways to make profits.
Barry Coleman, Firestone

Finalists

Jill and Callum ClarkeJill & Callum Clark
Connage Highland Dairy, Inverness

The gourmet cheese produced by Jill and Callum Clark is increasingly recognised by connoisseurs throughout the country. Jill and Callum have great skills and great team – and exceptional collaborative arrangements with other cheese makers to produce innovative products. They have brought the very best of local food production into a national market.

Andrew FrancisAndrew Francis
Elveden Estate, Suffolk

This large scale and complex farming business is impressively managed by Andrew Francis, who has helped brought the estate together under a respected and sought-after brand. An increasingly important hub for rural employment, the influence of the Elveden Estate stretches far beyond its native Suffolk and its businesses and impact will surely grow.

More on this topic

Keep up with all the news from the 2012 Farmers Weekly Awards