“I’m fanatical about lists,” says Adam Metcalfe. “I always have a notebook in my pocket so I can jot things down when they come to mind. I even keep it beside my bed at night.”
It’s this attention to detail – combined with a strong entrepreneurial flair – which has helped him build up a big farming and contracting business based at Newsham near Richmond in North Yorkshire.
The 28-year-old bought his first sprayer while he was a NDA student at Askham Bryan. He repaired it and was soon busy undertaking contracting work in tandem with his studies.
Since leaving college, he’s expanded so he’s now responsible for the day-to-day farming of 700ha (1750 acres), either on land that’s owned or rented, or on contract arrangements.
He also undertakes a host of contracting operations – “from ploughing to combining and everything in between” – taking the total turnover to well over £1m.
Although this is big business, the 265-acre family arable and beef farm which Adam took over when his father retired remains at the heart of his endeavours. His family has been here since 1889 now it’s also home to Adam, his wife Jo and their young daughter Clara.
He’s got about 100 suckler cows and, convinced that all meat prices will go upwards, has gone into sheep production and now runs 850 Mules, which he puts to a Charollais tup.
His father initially tried to dissuade him from going into farming. “He thought I was crackers – but I was very determined.
“Farming is a good lifestyle. I knew I never wanted to work for anyone else. It’s very satisfying and if you work for yourself and get something right, you get the benefit.”
Adam always knew, however, he’d have to diversify to survive. It’s been a lot of hard work – there have been times when he’s been working “literally 24 hours a day” – but he is thriving on the challenge and ambitious to keep growing.
“When I see land for sale, I find out who is buying it and write to them, enquiring about renting or contracting opportunities. There are so many opportunities out there.”
This positive can-do attitude epitomises Adam’s approach. “When wheat was £70/t,” he says, “that was as good as I’d ever known it, so I’d got my costs down to make it stack up at that level. Now the price has improved, it’s fantastic.”
His job has changed as the business has grown. “When I started, I was often driving a tractor from 4am to 10pm. I enjoyed it – but I did a lot of running around like a headless chicken. Now it’s a completely different role.”
He’s taken on a foreman, a shepherd (there are 14 full-time staff in all), and uses the services of a consultant which, he says, brings an objective opinion. “If you run your own business, you can get tunnel vision if you’re not careful – so this helps greatly.”
Adam’s business now is a complex logistical operation – he’s even had some bespoke computer software designed to help manage it, ensuring contracting jobs are recorded properly and invoiced promptly.
It’s also a diesel-thirsty business – so careful management of fuel is one of his priorities. “A lot of farmers and contractors don’t know how much fuel they are using. We monitor it very closely.”
All machines are less than three years old. “We go for hire purchase so I have a residual value to trade in for the next one. If you have old machines, they break down and it makes budgeting hard. I know exactly how much something will cost me for the term I like the certainty.
“There are a lot of things in farming you can’t predict, so I like to tie down as many of those things that I can.”
All tractors, meanwhile, are branded with the company logo and website details (originally they’d had a phone number, but he found people were more likely to remember a web address). “It’s amazing how many people have rung and said: We got your details off the side of a tractor.
He’s a big believer in the importance of a web presence. “But a lot of websites get done and then get forgotten about. You need to keep it updated.”
More recently, Adam has been exploring recycling and waste disposal opportunities this started by disposing of food waste and now encompasses recycling of farm waste plastic.
As to what he puts his success down to: “I’ve worked very hard, I’ve not been frightened to take risks and I’ve been lucky – people have given me chance to prove myself.”