24 August 2001

RUNNING TO STAND STILL IN NOTTS

SIX years ago, Mervyn Wells and his brother Stuart were farming 200ha (500 acres) at Harby, Notts. Now they are farming double that with one less man to earn a similar income.

"If we had stood still our income would have been on a downward spiral. My father, my brother and myself are dependent on the business to provide us with a living and I dont think it would if we were still on the same area," says Mervyn.

The farms expansion started with buying a neighbours 95ha (240 acre) farm. Further land has since been taken on as farm business tenancies and various rental agreements.

During that time a 200 head beef herd has been wound up, wheat and sugar beet area doubled, potatoes increased and carrots introduced.

"After BSE I could not see any prospect of a dramatic improvement in the beef sector, so we decided to go into carrots. We were being offered large rents for ground to grow the crop and decided we had better have a look at growing them ourselves."

Every change has been made working in close consultation with the bank. "We are always looking for opportunities. If I see one I phone up Mr Clark to have a chat and mull over some figures to see if it is a runner. I like to involve him at an early stage. As a rule you cant embark on restructuring without the banks input."

Diversification outside agriculture has been considered, but the expense and the risk of entering unknown territory puts Mr Wells off. "I like to go into something I know we are good at and I am totally committed to agriculture.

"We know were nearly as efficient as we can be and when you see other peoples costings in farmers weekly its clear were not too far out.

"In the past five weeks we have been up from 4am to 10pm and 90% of that time I have been physically working on the farm. My office is the tractor. We cant justify another wage to take my place."

Two full-time staff are employed but no seasonals. The mix of cropping means workload is spread throughout the year and all operations are kept in-house. The annual machinery replacement budget is £50,000.

"We harvest for nine months of the year, from the end of June through to March, which spreads the costs and gives a steady cashflow."

Mr Wells hours might seem extreme, but the business is profitable and it provides him with a reasonable lifestyle. "If I didnt enjoy it I wouldnt do it." &#42

Maincrop potato costings

Runni £/ha

Variables

Seed 498

Fertiliser 148

Sprays & seed tmnt 380

Total variable costs 1026

Overheads

Rent 555

Water 350

Harvest, grade & wash 650

Other operating costs 170

Machinery depreciation 150

Total operating costs 1875

Output 45t/ha Lady Rosetta @ £90/t 4050

Less total growing costs 2901

NET MARGIN