Collaboration works well for Andrew Charlton

Andrew Charlton farms 92ha (277 acres) at Stow Bridge in south-west Norfolk where he is a stockless organic arable producer, adviser and council tenant. Crops include cereals, potatoes, vegetables and fertility-building clover.

With harvest under way, it’s useful to reflect upon an important part of this business, namely the informal collaborative agreement I have with Giles Shakespeare a neighbour and friend.

Giles and I took over our respective holdings in 1999. We are both “one-man bands”, and although our businesses are independent, we’ve always helped each other out at various times.

Three years ago, while loading potatoes into the grader we hatched a plan to save ourselves time and money by pooling resources where we could.

The obvious starting place was combining, where the need for labour is greatest.

We agreed costings, which covered all of one side of an A4 sheet, to fix rates for undertaking different pieces of work.

We avoided a common pitfall by agreeing not to include diesel, so if I want something done, Giles’ machines arrive with a full fuel tank and depart having filled up from my tank.

Like anything that works really well, it is an incredibly simple system. It is a quid pro quo agreement, so Giles combines everything and I cart everything across both of our farms. We aim to do work in such a manner that the cost each would charge the other cancels out, and without really trying we are amazingly good at this.

The benefits include much greater timeliness. I am sure our combining work rate is at least three times greater than I achieved when working on my own. In other words we get a 50% bonus in productivity by working together.

Last year we added cereal drilling to the system pot by acquiring a Vaderstad Rapid drill.

There is another huge bonus in having another head to look around the farm and to bounce ideas off. In any event, it helps keep me sane.

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