The Bowditch family business is facing some big changes over the next two years. Olivia Cooper reports

Handing over the control of any farming business is never easy, but when three separate farms and two sides of the family are involved it is a quite a major feat.

Robert Bowditch, whose family have been farming at North Bowood, near Bridport, Dorset, since the turn of the last century, has decided the time is right to pass over the reins to son James and nephew Edward. As of next year they will take over full responsibility for the estate’s three farms, while he will retain control of the sheep, commercial shoot and property letting business, to provide an income into an active, working retirement.

“We’re in the middle of a big deliberation about what we all want to do,” says James. “We’ve got to get the businesses geared so that they’re more manageable for Edward and me we need to be specialising in the things that we are good at.”

Reshuffle

Adding to the reshuffle is the sad death of James’s great aunt Sylvia Bowditch, who owned LaverstockFarms. “Along with my father, she’s been the driving force behind the growth of the farm from 400 acres to 2000 acres today,” says James.

It is likely that Edward will take on a more managerial role with the beef enterprise, leaving James to manage the arable side and the pair of them taking joint responsibility for their dairy herds.

James is also hoping to consolidate the three businesses’ accounting regime, to save the significant amount of time spent cross-invoicing for work done. “I spend all my time on the farm, I’m never at home,” says James. “I would like to get things set up so that I have a bit more time outside the farm.”

Meanwhile, day-to-day management is also being reorganised due to the recent wet weather. “It’s difficult to plan anything at the moment, but the weather has given us the chance to tidy up the place and do all those odd jobs.” And to good avail, too, as Bowood won first prize in the local Melplash Show’s medium-sized farm competition, with Laverstock coming in third place. “It is a real boost for the staff and does focus the mind on your future farm management.”

Bovine TB

The most pressing issue, both now and for the future, is bovine TB. Both North Bowood and Cooper Dean farms are under TB restrictions, creating significant cashflow problems for the beef enterprise. “We have about 60 stores that we want to sell – store prices are good and they were budgeted to be gone – but we are stuck.”

It is still not clear if TB is present on the farms, and James is hugely frustrated about the government’s lack of action. “Everyone has lost faith in the system, there is nothing coming from the heads of government. We need some rapid action to help solve this dire problem.”

If TB turns out to be a long-term issue, James and Edward plan to keep more of the dairy bull calves entire and finish them as indoor barleybeef. “I’m also trying to improve the beef calves by using Continental bulls,” says James. He will also use more Holstein semen for replacement heifers, and would liketo move to closed dairy herds, although he has had to buy in replacements recently to fill a milk gap.

Milk contract

Prospects for the dairy business are looking up after acceptance of the estate’s annual 3.1m litres of milk on to a Tesco contract through Arla. From 1 July the farms are receiving 22p/litre, almost 3p/litre more than before. “It is a step in the right direction and a much-needed price increase, which will be ploughed straight back into the overdraft and dairy units.”

Other investment has been made in the tractor fleet to improve efficiencies and driver comfort. James has replaced three smaller tractors with two larger ones which can coverthe same acreage. “There are fewer of us and we need reliable, comfortable machines. The rearrangement cost us £32,000 and will pay for itself in just four years.”