A strong desire to prepare for life without subsidies is behind the decision of two south Herefordshire farming businesses to jointly host the new AHDB Hereford Monitor Farm.
For Martin Williams and Russell Price, the challenges that the next three years are likely to bring make it the perfect time to take on the Monitor Farm role together.
Both men believe that opening their doors and having their business performance and management decisions scrutinised is a good platform for considering the post-Brexit landscape, which may mean life without subsidies.
They acknowledge that they will have to open their minds as well – so they are preparing to share their experiences, accept criticism and consider new ideas, as they make plans to move forward in uncertain times.
“We may operate separate businesses, but the challenges we are facing are broadly the same,” says Mr Williams.
“These are highly geared, progressive arable farms, operating in a very competitive environment and an unpredictable market. At times, it seems as though we’re having to run very fast just to stand still.”
The joint hosts at a glance
Formerly a mixed farm, MW Farming at Fownhope is now 800ha of combinable crops and grassland, including winter wheat, winter and spring barley, oilseed rape and pulses.
As well as farming from his home base, Martin Williams offers contracting services – from single jobs right through to stubble-to-stubble contracts – using large, modern machinery and latest precision farming technology.
Russell Price Farm Services
Established in 1990, Russell Price Farm Services carries out farming and a range of contracting services from its Castle Frome base across four counties: Herefordshire, Worcestershire, Gloucestershire and South Shropshire.
Farming 780ha of wheat, barley, oilseed rape, potatoes, peas, beans and herbage seed from his base near Ledbury, Mr Price’s business also gives agronomy and crop protection advice, operates machinery franchises and has facilities for grading and storing potatoes.
The launch and open day for the new Hereford Monitor Farm will be held on June 27 2017.
Anyone wishing to attend should contact the AHDB’s knowledge exchange manager for the West, Richard Meredith, or visit the AHDB website.
The future of land tenure is a common interest, as both businesses are based on owned, rented and contract farmed land, with a variety of agreements in place, and both men have an appetite for new opportunities.
Not surprisingly, they are keen to explore how these might look in the years ahead and to investigate the potential for collaboration or joint ventures to increase profitability.
On a similar note, as both offer a range of contracting services, they recognise the importance of staff recruitment and retention to their future success.
Monitor farm topic areas
- The potential for collaboration to increase profitability
- Staff recruitment and retention
- Oilseed rape establishment
- Soil health
- Effect of Brexit on future profitability and how to respond
As a result, this is another of the topics that they want to address in their Monitor Farm meetings.
“There is such a diverse range of cropping in this part of Herefordshire, from vegetables and fruit to combinable and root crops, that there’s huge competition for land and skilled labour,” explains Mr Williams.
“We need to be right on top of our costs, as well as being enlightened employers and able to market ourselves when opportunities arise. We have to develop our skills and expertise accordingly.”
Brexit on the horizon adds further uncertainty and will also be high up on the agenda as the meeting topics are agreed, so that the effect of policy changes on future profitability are understood.
Having seen local farm manager Mark Wood in action as a Monitor Farm for the last three years, the concept has been well-received and the new hosts are keen to engage with an interactive group of local, like-minded farmers.
“We have made a conscious effort to try out different things on the farm and push the boundaries in the last few years,” reports Mr Price.
“We are also doing some on-farm trials on oilseed rape establishment, varieties and fungicides, as well as putting effort into soil health, so there is already a good basis for some lively debate.”
With about 120ha of potatoes in the ground, produced for a range of markets, he acknowledges that the crop has been through a transformation in the last few years and is keen to keep innovating and trying new techniques.
“This forum gives us the opportunity to do that. Being farmer-led, we can explore the topics that are most relevant to this area.”
Mr Price also highlights the importance of new technology as a priority topic.
“There is a great deal happening with telematics, robotics and data management, so we need to keep abreast of these developments and understand what benefits they can bring.”
The same applies to new farming practices, he believes.
“We’re all going to have to adapt and change. As a Monitor Farm, we will be in the spotlight as we do this, but everyone must be prepared for a journey.”