2010 FW Awards: Diversification Farmer of the Year finalist – Robert Borrill

Making the most of every asset and grasping opportunities when they present themselves are the secrets behind Robert Borrill’s diversification success.

Much of Robert’s 500ha Hiboldstow Farm in north Lincolshire is agriculturally restricted with some so poor it was once designated as a bombing range. The main farm sits on a redundant airfield and the old runway provides 16ha of hard standing.

Because much of his land was unprofitable for arable production, Robert looked to diversify. “I could never make the poor land pay, so I started to set up diversifications to run alongside the farming business.”

His first diversification was growing ducks under contract for Cherry Valley Farms. This took advantage of the large area of hard standing provided by the redundant runway and provided a free source of organic matter-rich fertiliser. “I was awarded a Nuffield Scholarship in 1994 and became the first scholar to study duck production. The trip took me to the USA, China and Thailand and gave me the confidence to quadruple my duck production by 1997 growing 45,000 ducks six times a year.”

In 2008 he was one of the first producers to set up a free-range duck unit supplying Marks & Spencer and at the same time he converted an existing building to RSPCA Freedom Foods standard by adding a veranda with water baths. “I am conscious of improving welfare and would like to convert all of my conventional buildings to Freedom Foods standard.”

As well as generating significant income in their own right the duck units produce large quantities of manure which he spreads on his arable land. “It has considerably reduced our fertiliser bill and helps build up soil organic matter,” he says. “No compound P&K fertilisers were added to the 2009 arable crop as this was provided by the duck manure.”

Land that is too poor to grow profitable arable crops is let to a local turf contractor. “It suits turf production and we let 200 acres to a local firm who supply the Millennium Stadium, Wembley and Croke Park,” he says.

Duck manure is added regularly to the turf ground to help compensate for soil loss and mustard is planted on the early-harvested patches to reduce soil erosion.

In 2007 he revived a disused farm quarry, which now produces quality gravel and limestone. Gaining planning permission had been difficult and there was public objection to start with, but this was eventually achieved following an enquiry.

It now employs two local people and as it expands he hopes more jobs will be created. “Much of the stone will be used for dry stone walling and the restoration of historic buildings – Lincoln Cathedral are testing the quality of the stone.”

The farm is in the Countryside Stewardship scheme and will hopefully be upgraded to the Higher Level Scheme this summer, he says. The poultry unit is policed by the Environment Agency under IPPC regulations.

He has bought and restored a number of listed properties in the area, which he has sympathetically renovated. The Dying Gladiator public house in Brigg is his latest acquisition. “I have had a lot of community support for renovating the pub – I wanted to keep it as a pub anyone in Brigg could come into and feel comfortable.”

After selling the last of his cattle in 1993 he converted a small paddock into a caravan storage site. “Trade was steady until joining the Caravan Storage Site Owners’ Association in 2002, but we are now silver award holders and store more than 200 caravans.”


• Actively seeks new business opportunities that promise the potential for income growth

• Committed to raising standards in animal welfare

• Skilled at turning difficult situations/resources to advantage

• Recognises the importance of making the most of his business assets


• 500ha arable farm

• 80ha turf production

• Limestone and gravel quarry

• Caravan storage for 200 units

• Rears 45,000 ducks six times a year

• Listed property renovation

• Owns popular local pub

For more on the 2010 Farmers Weekly Awards

For more on the 2010 finalists

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