Geoff Sayers

Carswell Farm, Plymouth, Devon

It wasn’t just Geoff Sayers’ impressive financial results that won him this year’s Dairy Farmer of the Year award. He also stood out for his ability to manage a large, diversified business, spread across the West Country.

Geoff Sayers in a field with dairy cows

Geoff Sayers © Jim Wileman

In 1998, following a career in finance in Hong Kong, Geoff returned to his family farm – Carswell Farm, near Plymouth, Devon.

Soon after his return, Geoff began converting the land to organic and expanding the business.

Less than two decades on, the Devon dairy business – established by his father in the 1950s – has grown from a single farm with 300 cows to a 10m-litre organic milk empire with five farms (two owned, two contract farmed, one rented) in Cornwall, Devon and Somerset.

Winning ways

  • Excellent financial results
  • Clear understanding of all aspects of costs
  • Large employer of staff
  • Environmental awareness
  • Managing diversified business across three counties

Now, as CEO of the Carswell Group, Geoff oversees the management of 1,900 cows across 1,602ha of converted organic land.

Of the 10m litres produced across the five sites, the majority is sold to Arla Foods.

However, about 5% goes to a local contract manufacturer to produce organic cottage cheese, soft cheese, crème fraîche and clotted cream, which are sold under Geoff’s dairy brand, Holy Cow.

Products are stocked by Waitrose, Ocado, Able & Cole and independent retailers.

The Carswell Group portfolio also includes eight luxury cottages and an organic meat company called Well Hung Meat.

However, dairy remains the business’ bread and butter, with milk sales and the Holy Cow brand representing about two-thirds of total revenue.

See also: Dairy Farmer of the Year 2016 finalists revealed

Management of each dairy unit is delegated to a farm manager.

Farm facts

  • Five farms – two owned, one rented, two contract farmed – across Devon, Cornwall and Somerset
  • 1,602ha of converted organic land running 1,900 cows
  • 10m litres of organic milk produced
  • About 95% of milk sold to Arla Foods

On top of salary, managers on Geoff’s owned and rented farms are incentivised with a 5% share of any profit from their unit.

Each herd manager is expected to meet a series of targets set by Geoff.

Across all units, the main focus is improving cow fertility and producing more milk from forage to drive down cost of production, which averages about 28p/litre – a figure Geoff acknowledges is “probably too high with rent and finance”.

Cows graze for at least nine months a year, and during the winter they are housed and fed mostly silage.

Production varies from herd to herd, with autumn-calving Gilscott Farm in north Devon boasting the highest yielders at 6,370 litres a cow, of which 3,499 litres comes from forage.

Split-calving Hole Farm in Cornwall follows closely at 6,022 litres a cow, with 4,027 litres from forage.

Operating spring- and autumn-calving units allows the business a level production profile, says Geoff.

Other areas of focus include milk quality and cow and calf mortality.

Looking ahead, Geoff hopes to double milk production across his units. He also plans to develop and market new products under the Holy Cow brand.

Sponsor’s view

cawood logo“With his passion and understanding of the basics of farming coupled with a desire to use informatics to manage all aspects of his operation and ambitious plans for the future, Geoff Sayers is a worthy winner of Dairy Farmer of the Year.”

Nigel Patrick, managing director, Cawood Scientific