Rural Development Association, Wiltshire
• Nearly trebled his business in seven years
• Adding value to his clients’ businesses and their objectives
• Strong industry influence and voice
The key to James Miles-Hobbs is his ability to extract and understand his clients’ objectives and then create solutions that enhance their businesses. He describes his Rural Development Associates business as “simply helping farmers make money”.
He set up RDA seven years ago to provide financial planning advice for farmers and landowners. The business has trebled to include consultancy on everything from single farm payments to cross-compliance and contract farming agreements, but renewable energy projects now take up three-quarters of his time.
James gained a degree in agricultural economics at Reading and a diploma in advanced farm management at the Royal Agricultural College. His success has come from making the most of his farming clients’ resources and drawing upon a wide circle of experts on grant funding, anaerobic digestion, waste management and wind or solar power to create a project team.
“I have the farming and business knowledge to judge whether a potential project will fly, but I employ specialists on a part-time basis that are best suited to help deliver them,” he says.
His practical hands-on farming experience comes from his family’s own arable, pig and beef unit, and during his time with consultant Andersons and then Savills, where he farmed a large 800ha (2,000-acre) arable estate in Cambridgeshire. This farming knowledge and experience enables him to be an effective “bridge between the non-agricultural specialists and his clients”.
That is evident when you meet his client since 1995, Lady Michael, who owns the 400ha (1,000-acre) arable and Countryside Stewardship Eddington Estate just outside Hungerford. He delivers an in-depth knowledge of the estate’s accounts, arranging and managing a contract farming agreement and any new business appraisals. “James plays an important role on the estate – explaining farming regulations, providing succinct business appraisal summaries and always sees fair play between the contractors and estate,” she says.
He operates three fee options, either based on time, a fixed flat fee paid in instalments or a one-off fee for a particular job. And on some issues he provides free consultancy, particularly on renewable energy, to maintain customer loyalty and build new business.
James undertakes up to a dozen speaking engagements a year and sits on a number of CLA and British Agricultural Consultant’s committees. “These take up a lot of my time but it’s worth it because of the intelligence and insight that you can gain, which ultimately helps shape my advice to clients,” he says.
Diversification has been a core part of James’ own consultancy so it’s appropriate he has his own. In Rural Heat, a new company he and three partners set up in Marlborough, he is practising what he preaches. Rural Heat will take short-rotation coppice from farmers, process it and burn it in biomass boilers installed in schools and hospitals.
• Provides business advice in four key areas: farming, diversification, grants and renewable energy, with 25-50 clients from Brighton to Bristol, Hereford and Oxford
The professionalism and value these individuals deliver for their farming clients is hugely impressive; their enthusiasm and stamina to provide solutions is truly admirable
Piers Costley, General Manager
2011 Farmers Weekly Awards