Highchurch Farm, Radstock, Somerset
Somerset farmer David Horler ticks all the boxes for Diversification Farmer of the Year.
He runs a tightly managed business with a unique brand and clear plan for the future that promotes farming to a wider audience.
David is the man behind the Tractor Ted range of children’s books, DVDs, gifts and clothing popular with two- to six-year-olds across the country. In educating the next generation, the brand does British farming a great service.
It started when David and his friend Ally Heard saw their preschool children fascinated with the farm machinery in the fields.
Thirteen years, 17 DVDs and 11 books later, their Tractor Ted brand is stocked in 600 country shops in the UK and Ireland.
“Tractor Ted is an incredibly well-known brand and meeting David showed that it is backed up by genuine passion for education, a love for farming and a sharp business brain.”
Alan Spedding, rural consultant and independent judge
The smiling, green tractor is also the face of play farms in Wiltshire and Perthshire that attract 250,000 visitors a year, and an annual farm show.
The staff are a highly valued part of the business and closely involved in its growth. David has two business partners: creative director Ally and marketing director Alexandra Beeley.
All of the eight-strong staff see the sales figures at the end of each week to see how the business is performing against carefully set targets.
David says this “really cheers everyone up” and gets them rushing to get orders on the books late on a Friday.
The agricultural side of the business has not been left behind by the diversification. David’s nephew Tom runs the 200ha organic farm on a day-to-day basis, growing wheat, barley and red clover and running a 50-cow suckler herd. It regularly returns profits of more than £100,000/year.
- Makes Tractor Ted books, DVDs, gifts and clothing for children aged two to six
- Three business partners, three full-time and five part-time staff
- Diversification to hit £1m turnover this year
- 200ha mixed organic farm with 50-cow suckler herd
- Champions farming to young audience
- Unique and tightly managed brand
- Clear plan for growing farm and diversification
- Outstanding grasp of accounting and data
Tom and David have ambitious plans for the farm. They hope to take the suckler herd to at least 100 in the next few years.
The farm and diversification fit closely together. Tractor Ted’s team works in the farm’s old threshing barn, converted into a workshop in 1990 as an original diversification.
And it was while filming a Tractor Ted video for the Soil Association that David was so impressed by the crop quality on the organic holdings he visited that he decided to convert his own farm.
There is also some neat collaboration with neighbours. For example, local machinery dealers bring combines and tractors to a farm show in exchange for some free family passes, and a nearby dairy farmer takes the red clover for silage.
David and his team have a clear strategy for the future of the diversified business, which has consistently seen 15-20% revenue growth during the past 10 years. They are looking to open a third play farm in Hampshire, and exploring the idea of Tractor Ted-branded play barns.
“The vision for Ted is to get into more urban homes, to get the message to those children about farming,” David says.
“It is all about where the food comes from and we want more people to connect with farming.”
David and Diana Harper
Top Barn Farm, Worcestershire
David and Diana have used their several diversifications – from farm shop to business lets to fishing pools – as a smart succession plan for their sons. They also have a passionate commitment to help the community through non-profit care farming schemes.
Helen and David Harrison
Harrisons of Greyabbey, Newtonwards, Co Down
Customer focus is right at the core of Helen and David’s farm shop, restaurant and nursery. Generous cooking and mesmerising views draw visitors by the coachload. They have also grown rapidly, hitting the five-year turnover target in less than two years.
“David’s business shows the very best of farm diversification: it’s expertly managed, generates enthusiasm for farming among the next generation and retains a close link with the original agricultural operation.”
Matthew Smart, AgriBank