LIKE MANY entrepreneurs, Angus Janaway has a love of innovation. Being an arable farmer, he is a self-proclaimed devotee of new crops. He cultivates about 500ha (1200 acres) near Basingstoke, Hants, which are entirely geared towards seed production.
After studying management at Sparsholt Agricultural College, he took over the farm aged 21 in 1986 as a dedicated seed production business, and immediately set out to specialise even further.
“I was trained as a food grower and started as a food grower, but that had to change,” he says. “In the early 1990s, with MacSharry – the 1992 reform of the CAP – the warning was already there alongside the low commodity prices. We decided to take the business up a level and grow what the merchants wanted. We made it known we would bend over backwards.”
The seed operation changes from year to year. Last year saw 120ha (300 acres) planted with morphine poppies under licence from the Home Office, 200ha (500 acres) planted for herbage seeds and the rest planted with a mixture of wheats, barleys and oilseed rape.
He showed farmers weekly a grass crop whose seed will end up on the courts of the All England Lawn Tennis Club in Wimbledon.
But he is more enthusiastic about the poppies, and is the country’s leading producer of poppy seed for cultivation – just three acres worth. The remaining 99% of his crop is produced under contract to a pharmaceutical firm.
His arable operation is neatly arranged in 39 fields of up to 50 acres, after he painstakingly replanted thousands of trees and bushes to replace lost hedges. He talks enthusiastically about his hedging, which has even won a DEFRA award.
But traditional agriculture only generates about half of his turnover. “About 50% of the business is non-farming – and that percentage is growing. Although I am entirely committed to agriculture, you must always have something on the go!”
Although Mr Janaway claims his business has always been profitable, the drive to increase revenue has led him to take advantage of every possible scheme and initiative.
He earns about 2500/ha (1000/acre) for coppicing and generates tens of thousands of pounds by following the Countryside Stewardship Scheme. Since the scheme started, he has taken 18ha (44 acres) out of production and permitted access to 17 miles of land for dog walkers and horse riders.
From this experiment grew another big branch of the diversified business. He sowed a few areas with wildflowers and people soon came knocking on the farmhouse door to enquire about it.
“We realised there was an opportunity to create wildflower meadows, and started to buy in the seed, do the cultivation and manage the meadows for three years. It works in this area because there is so much outside-farming money.”
He has sown about 15 new meadows in the past 12 months. In a similar vein, he offers hedging, fencing and road building services to landowners. The latter is his latest project, built on the acquisition of a Finnish road laying machine that runs off a tractor’s pto. “It all began with the potholes in our own farm tracks,” he says.
“It was no longer viable to bring in stone from the West Country because of high fuel prices, so I found a machine that would effectively recycle our tracks: Grading, filling in potholes and relaying the surface.”
He hires this out in dry weather for 1000 a day, in which time it can relay 1500m of track. Mr Janaway is hoping the business will take off if he wins a Ministry of Defence contract to repair tracks across nearby Salisbury Plain.
This hard-headed commercial enterprise is typical of Mr Janaway’s approach to business. “Everything we do has to make a profit. I am not to look over the hedge to see what the neighbour is doing.
“We have become quite hard and if grass doesn’t work one year, we stop doing it.”
He lets out property in the nearby village for commercial and residential purposes, including 10 cottages and barn space for classic cars, building materials and medical equipment. Mr Janaway is also pursuing a massive project to build hundreds of new homes using local materials and building styles near Newbury.
The final two interests in his diverse portfolio include a mobile phone mast, netting him 4500 each year, and a film location business.
He has had three crews shooting on his land in the past year alone, and though he admits they can be very demanding, their presence generates 2500 a day. And he is well on the way to drawing up plans for converting a long barn into a recording studio.
“Flexibility is the key,” says Mr Janaway. Good communication skills have also helped him enormously, he adds. Without it, he believes that he would never have connected with the wide demand for the sort of land management services that he offers.
He also pays tribute to his young, switched-on workforce, but above all, he advocates patience. “The system in this country is geared against farmers, but don’t give up the fight.”