Arable Farmer Focus: Andrew Charlton juggles organic contract farming business

Despite the prophecies of doom for the organic sector, the UK continues to be an import-driven market for arable crops. In my view, this is a major strategic weakness, although it does bring opportunities too.

Two years ago, I managed to harangue some friends and colleagues into starting up an organic farm management business to try to respond to this market situation. The business we formed – Speedwell Farming – has just completed its first harvest from our portfolio of just two clients and it’s interesting to reflect how far we have come in such short time.

The key to contract farming is to keep costs down and we have been fortunate in having access to a neighbour with big kit able to undertake cultivation and harvesting as well as anyone can, while using our own specialist organic machinery for things like clover establishment and comb harrowing.

Less easy to date has been our attempts to attract the many non-farming, but highly-ethically motivated investors, into the farming industry to help create a portfolio of profitable organic farms. However, this may be because a recession tends to attract investors back into more traditional investments for a short period.

The management time we have put into developing Speedwell Farming has to fit around running our own businesses and this presents challenges, which are tough, but not insurmountable.

We are not dependent on applying masses of inputs to crops and we have integrated our recording systems for the big undertaking, which is the annual organic inspection. And of course, we have learned the ins and outs of organic management and agronomy the hard way. In summary, I’m really energised by what we have achieved so far. We may have only added 300t to the UK-produced organic grain deficit in year one, but at least it’s a start.

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