Applying your skills to a gap in the market can be the key to carving out a successful career in agriculture. Rachel Jones meets three young farmers who, without land of their own, have found their business niche

Slurry injection

Name: Gareth Powell (pictured above)

Location: Bromham, Wiltshire

Date started: 2008

Summarise your business:

I specialise in umbilical slurry injection covering the counties of Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, Somerset and Berkshire.

Where did you get the idea from?

A friend of mine was already in this line of work and had started using a slurry tanker and injector, but was finding that with the bigger farms he couldn’t do the job quickly enough. So I started to look for a faster way of doing it, while keeping costs down. I also referred to articles that were in Farmers Weekly about the new NVZ rules coming in and new storage requirements. I saw that a lot of work was going to be available with the right system, so I grabbed the opportunity.

How did you get started? Did it take much investment?

I bought the basic system from a local contractor who was giving up that part of his contracting services. The basic system cost me £10,000, but I knew straight away that I needed to invest in a shallow slot injector which was purchased three months after I started. In the past five years I have invested the majority of my company profits into the business to get where I am today. I have the largest shallow slot injector in the country and I am spreading roughly 150,000 cu m of slurry/digestate a year with one system.

How did you find and grow your customer base?

Through my previous employment and work with contractors I had made contacts with a number of dairy farmers, so I developed these further. I also decided to advertise my services, purchased a mailing list of all farms in different areas and sent out 500 leaflets. I also sponsor a local event rider, Lucie McNichol, who wears my logo at all the competitions she attends nationally and have also sponsored some different classes at the local hunt shows to promote my business locally.

What skills do you need for the job?

You need to be good at using a washing machine as you can go through quite a few sets of clothes in a week! You need to be good at maths for working out field applications and have a good sense of awareness of your surroundings and where things such as water courses, land drains and so on are.

What’s been your biggest challenge so far? How did you overcome it?

When I first purchased my injector I had to convince the farmers that the extra cost of injection was worth it and that it would save them money in the long term. To overcome this problem I had to offer this service for the same price of splash plating the first time on most farms and after they had seen the difference the splash plate was made redundant.

Where do you see the business in five years’ time?

With more and more AD plants there will be more digestate to spread. With a recent order of a Claas Xerion and Kaweco slurry tanker with a 32m dibble bar I am now able to apply slurry to growing cereals and can cover every aspect of slurry applications. Arable farmers will then have another alternative to artificial fertiliser with a more effective and faster-acting fertiliser. This therefore saves money and also in turn is better for the environment. With ever-tighter rules I can see the slurry industry will come even more of a specialised job.

What do you do when you’re not working?

When I’m not working I like to spend my time hunting or taking part in the odd fun team chase, shooting and socialising at quite a few parties in the winter when everything is quiet. I also enjoy eventing, so try to get to watch as many events as possible during the year. My customers are at a lot of these events too, so I get to see them on a social side.

Who inspires you and your business?

Seeing a few friends start up their own businesses and succeed spurred me on to do it myself, but it was very different from what everyone else was doing and I did get a few strange looks! When I was working for Freeman Brothers I learnt a great deal about contracting and how to run a successful business. I saw how they had started off small and with hard work and determination had grown into one of the biggest contractors in the area and that is what I still aspire to today.

Find Powell Agricultural Contractors online at powellagricultural.co.uk

Kid meat

Lizzie Dyer

Name: Lizzie Dyer

Location: Gloucestershire

Date started: 2013

Summarise your business

I am a purveyor of quality Cotswold kid meat, using billy kids that would otherwise have been dispatched at birth. I want to give a purpose to these animals who otherwise are simply the unwanted by-product of the goat dairy industry.

With a friend, Ellie Parsons, I am also using both the hides and skins to produce handmade products like handbags, wallets and rugs.

Where did you get the idea from?

On a trip to London I discovered that all the kid meat in circulation was coming predominately from Paris.

This to me was just madness. With thousands of billy kids being wasted on dairy farms across the country, a reliable supply of the meat should not be an issue.

How did you get started? Did it take much investment?

I started on a very small budget purely from my own funds. I work part time and do lots of odd bits of work on the side, from working with sheep to waitressing. I have been able to reduce my rental costs by looking after my landlord’s sheep and I have kept my stocking rate low to start with, to allow me to do most things by hand. In October, my numbers will increase and so I will be using a milk machine that is being lent to me.

How did you find/grow your customer base?

By word of mouth and talking to people from chefs to butchers – anyone who would listen! I am lucky to know some fantastic chefs who have really got behind my business. Due to my finances I have not been able to spend any money on advertising apart from creating a website and I have been using social media as much as possible.

Why does it suit you?

It has allowed me to get my foot in the door and start my own farming business, which is hard when you are young unless you go home and work on the family farm. I hope from here I can develop and expand the business and hopefully be running it one day from my own farm. I have also been able to tie in my interest in food and cooking with British produce. I can juggle Just Kidding around my part-time job, which provides my financial stability while the business is in its infancy.

What skills do you need for the job?

When working with any stock you have to learn and develop your husbandry skills, especially as the kids are often just a week old when they arrive on the farm. People skills are also crucial as you are the face of the business and you are in direct contact with your customer. Apart from that, a sense of humour as the kids are rather cheeky and mischievous!

What’s been your biggest challenge so far?

Finding a suitable place to keep the kids. I knew I would have to rent if I wanted to start on my own and finding somewhere suitable and affordable was a nightmare. You have to be flexible and realistic when looking for premises;. The farm is perfect in so many ways but I am clocking up 80 miles a day in driving.

The lack of industry information and guidance on producing dairy billy kids for meat was also a challenge. There is no real blueprint for dos and don’ts; in many ways this is a positive challenge as it tests your resolve and intuition.

Where do you see the business in five years’ time?

I would like to have an established and growing market for my kid meat, skins and hides. I think that it is only a matter of time before this sector grows, so I hope I can provide a blueprint for producing dairy billy kids for the meat industry with a sustainable margin.

What do you do when you’re not working?

Well, being self-employed you never seem to be not working! But I have two horses and try to do as much hunting and competing as time and funds allow. I also love cooking and eating out and travelling, but the latter is on the back burner for a couple of years.

Who inspires you and your business?

I would definitely say that my dad has been the biggest inspiration for giving it a go.

Find Lizzie on Twitter @CotswoldKidMeat

Firewood

Ben Martin

Name: Ben Martin

Location: Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

Date started: 2009

Summarise your business

I have a tenancy on 32ha and do contracting (BCM Farm Services) but my niche business is supplying quality seasoned firewood logs and kindling to domestic and wholesale customers.

Where did you get the idea from?

It’s adding value to the by-product of the coppicing and woodland work we undertake. A quick Google search showed a lack of professional firewood suppliers in the area. It was a natural progression.

How did you get started?

We started small scale, with a chainsaw and an axe so investment was minimal! We invest each year now to keep improving efficiency. Buying a new processor this year was a big outlay, but because it automates the process considerably and reduces the manual labour requirement a huge output is now potentially achievable.

How did you find/grow your customer base?

Local ads in shops and parish magazines worked well. Becoming a member of a national firewood suppliers directory helped grow our status, and our own website will play a vital role growing in the future.

Why does it suit you?

I enjoy the work, being outdoors in beautiful woodlands. It makes good use of labour and machinery during the winter. It’s also good for cashflow, as several deliveries a day keeps cashflow nice and steady.

What skills do you need for the job?

An ability to work hard in challenging weather conditions, plus you need to be a good communicator as the phone is always ringing. Obviously training and qualifications in chainsaw work too.

What’s been your biggest challenge so far?

Taking the plunge and investing in a new firewood processor should allow us to grow as a business and target new areas to increase our customer base.

Where do you see the business in five years’ time?

I’d like to be the market leader in the area, to be the first firewood business people ring when they need their log store topping up. We’ve grown our customer base by around 50% each year over the course of four years – to continue that trend would be a massive achievement.

What do you do when you’re not working?

I enjoy racing off-road endurance motorcycle events. Everyone needs a hobby that enables you to switch off and relax properly away from work.

Who inspires you and your business?

My dad has worked very hard in farming to achieve lots and this inspires me. I always want to better myself and growing my business keeps me motivated.

FindBen on Twitter @farmer_benn

For more on this topic

See more on new entrants on our young farmers page