Farmers Weekly Awards 2016: Diversification Farmer of the Year

The Richards family

The Green Waste Company, Cornwall

Adaptability, strategic thinking and business nous – the Richards family have got it all. Not to mention the fact they work so well together.

Members of the Green Waste Company

© Jim Wileman

Their determination to continually improve and build a financially sustainable enterprise fit for the next generation, has resulted in two highly specialised and successful businesses.

The Green Waste Company – built by Felicity and husband John – now composts 25,000t of green waste a year across two yards through a 25-year county council contract. This is no small undertaking and needed the couple to both study waste management and for Felicity to become a chartered waste manager.   

See also: 2016 Farmers Weekly Awards: Diversification Farmer finalists revealed

Having started in the farmyard with hired machinery, the business has grown to include a purpose-built area with 1.6ha of concrete pads, financed completely from profits.

Farm facts

  • 445ha owned and rented
  • 330 dairy cows and followers
  • Grows crisping potatoes, cauliflowers, asparagus and forage crops
  • Green waste contract indirectly with two councils
  • Processes 25,000t/year of green waste across two sites
  • Sells compost to 40 farmers
  • Employs seven people and supports three families

The family’s focus on quality and strict adherence to regulations means the compost is certified to the British Standard PAS 100 mark and is sold to the Eden Project and 40 local farmers.

Felicity’s steely business sense lead her to negotiate a contract with the council that is index-linked to key input costs.

This has helped ensure the business remains profitable and the injection of cash has enabled the family farm to bounce back from low vegetable and milk prices.  

Led by John’s older brother Paul, his son Charles and contract cowman Ben Jacobs, the 445ha mixed family farm is now a more tightly managed and profitable operation.

This openness to new ideas and to reinventing and re-skilling has played no small part in the success of both businesses.

Coupled with a clear management structure that puts each family member in charge of a particular operation and hands a good deal of responsibility to employees, has allowed both businesses to thrive.

The dairy herd, with 330 cows and followers, has been moved to a low-cost, grass-based system with the help of cowman Ben, who has been with the family for 11 years, and is now working as a contractor, on his request.

These changes have reduced milking time, mastitis and feed costs and given Ben an opportunity to grow, drill down on costs and improve herd management.

The arable enterprise has become much more specialised and commercially driven, with Paul’s son Charles increasing potato and cauliflower plantings (the farm now grows 35 varieties of caulis) and starting an asparagus crop.

Winning ways

  • Excellent knowledge of financial and technical detail
  • Open and continually developing
  • Well-structured business with strong focus on succession
  • Ability to work well as a team
  • Contribution to environment and local service
  • High return on capital with savvy pricing structure

Soil health is carefully managed and compost from the Green Waste Company is used to improve soil structure and fertility.

“Some of our Ps and Ks are getting too high,” says Charles. “That’s not something you hear often.”

A big factor in the success of the Richards’ two businesses, is their ability to work together. They are a well-oiled team, holding regular family business meetings and sharing budgets quarterly.

They have created space for the next generation to come into the business early in a meaningful way and planned their finances so the older generation is independent of the businesses at retirement.

Felicity and John’s daughter Carolyn is the company’s transport manager and continues to study waste management and develop business opportunities

Their son James drives lorries for the Green Waste Company and is managing a new farm diversification, a 450-space park-and-ride service.

“It’s been an amazing journey, thinking about we have learned,” says Felicity.

Sponsor’s view

4xtra hands logo“4Xtrahands is a farm diversification, so we know how hard the Richards family have worked.

“They have excellent strategic, technical and financial knowledge and exemplify how a family can work together.” 

Nigel Merriam, director,

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