Park Farm, Curry Mallett, Somerset
• Simplified the business
• Grown profits to 30% of turnover
• Inventive and innovative solutions
Boundless enthusiasm, impressive resourcefulness and a refusal to let problems overcome him are just some of the reasons James Down is Farmers Weekly‘s Young Farmer of the Year.
Having taken over his family’s 365ha tenanted dairy, beef, arable and sheep enterprise in 2003 after his father suffered a serious accident, James was thrown into making tough business decisions from a young age.
It is a situation he has thrived on and he has spent the time working towards finding ways to expand the business while making it less complex, often coming up with some inventive ways to get around challenges he comes up against.
“I love coming up with solutions to things, creating bits of machinery or designing farm buildings,” he says.
Indeed, James’ love for designing things has led him to coming up with the designs for the farm’s new dairy, which will allow him to expand his current 200-head herd of Friesian Holsteins to 250.
“I’m optimistic about the future of dairying, so it is worth investing. I have put in as much automation as possible because I’m determined to keep things simple and keep it to a one-man milking system.
“I don’t see a place for 500-cow dairy herds. There are arguments about economies of scale, but I think you always need a man to 1m litres, which is what I have.
“I have a full-time milker, another full-time worker and two relief staff who are all trained to be able to do all the jobs on the farm, and that’s the simple system I am trying to keep to.”
James’ decision to expand the parlour has seen him invest £150,000, while he has taken the decision to stop breeding replacement heifers and instead buy in genetics so he could improve his herd quality faster.
As stock numbers increased he also decided to finish cattle at 24 months instead of 30, securing a return of £250 for each of the 150 cows he sells to Southern Counties each year.
The herd’s milk is sold to Tesco on a year-round, 4,500 litres a day flat profile, guaranteeing him a price that covers the cost of production and introducing him to a system that has really pushed him to reach high standards.
James also decided to reduce the farm’s flock of Poll Dorset sheep from 380 to 200 after two harsh winters left him with reduced grass stocks and simplified his cropping system.
He now concentrates on growing 250 acres of wheat, much of which he forward sells.
He also produces 50 acres of barley, plus 200 acres of grass and maize as break crops and as feed for the cattle, helping him drive down feed costs.
It’s a move that has worked, as he has increased profits impressively to almost 30% of his turnover, allowing him to make investments without the need to take out additional bank loans.
“I’ve been really lucky that I have come into a great business that has never made a loss in its 30-year history, but being handed the reins so early on I have really been able to change the direction we were heading through greater efficiencies,” he says.
• 365ha tenanted farm
• 250-head dairy herd of Friesian Holsteins
• 120ha cereals
• 80ha grass
• 200 Poll Dorset sheep
• Two full-time staff
“Massey Ferguson is renowned for its innovation. Our finalists demonstrate why it is essential for young farmers to be innovative to gain a competitive advantage. Congratulations to you all.”
Gary Henly, business development manager,
2011 Farmers Weekly Awards