Farmers Weekly Awards 2006
Robert Law is the Terra Arable Farmer of the Year. Here’s why he won:
With no farming background to hold him back Robert Law has built a profitable arable enterprise in Hertfordshire from almost a standing start 25 years ago.
Hard graft and an ability to fashion his own luck characterise his success. A swift move to secure 225ha Rectory Farm when SFP uncertainty depressed prices in 2003, is a prime example. Buying it as a limited company meant SFP entitlements were preserved and land secured at a favourable price.
“Being a first generation farmer makes me more of a risk taker, with no older generation to talk down proposed changes,” he says. As a result a mix of share-farming, partnerships, renting and buying has converted £15,000 of capital in 1981 into a business spanning 1200ha in Hertfordshire and a further 500ha in Nottinghamshire.
Throughout it all he has focused on premium markets and maximising environmental payments. Conservation Grade grain for local breakfast cereal and snack bar maker Jordans lies at the heart of his business.
It is a market Mr Law has worked closely with Jordans to develop. He is now Jordan’s largest cereal supplier, delivering 2000t on mostly two-year contracts.
Premiums of £5-8/t more than compensate for higher production costs. What’s more the associated wildlife management is a revenue stream in its own right, with Countryside Stewardship and ELS adding almost £80,000 to income.
Every acre is considered for a payment that is guaranteed for 10 years. At Rectory Farm, for example, 6m margins worth £530/ha and a further 90p/m for bridleway access surround every field.
Integrating enterprises has also helped. A 2000-ewe flock adds significant value by grazing crop aftermaths and local grass, including an SSSI.
Block cropping and prudent harvest planning ensure workloads are spread to cut overheads.
Min-till cultivations using existing equipment, fuel-efficient Fendt tractors and a mounted rather than self-propelled sprayer also help keep overheads down to £340/ha, excluding finance. All staff are salaried.
The key to the future will lie in flexing the business to reflect the growing importance of environmental schemes and biofuels, and declining significance of conventional food cropping, he believes.
• Andrew Symonds, Stourport