Ten years of big changes to keep making money from farming

  • Richard Payne, Heathfield Manor Farm, Taunton, Somerset
  • Arable Barometer farmer, 1997-1998

Richard Payne says that he still has the same business objective as he did 10 years ago: To make money from farming.

But the farm has had to change for him to do this. No longer a mixed farm all the efforts are focused on combinable crop production after the sale of his suckler beef herd last year.

The total area farmed is unchanged, with only the odd extra parcel of land being rented. “Land in this area has been too expensive to buy, especially when you’re up against vegetable growers,” he explains.

As a result, Mr Payne now has one full-time employee instead of two and has also reduced his machinery requirements accordingly, with just one tractor doing shift work.

He has also been able to take advantage of his passion for shooting to provide a secondary income.

Payne

“I’ve had a part-time job with a sporting agency for the last four years, looking after the guns who come down to this part of the world to shoot on Exmoor.”

This means that he spends more time off the farm during the winter than he does on it, but his confidence in his employee’s ability and judgement has allowed this to take place without any problem.

“It presented us with a workload challenge this year, as the wet weather and saturated soils meant that we got very behind with drilling.”

These delays, with the rise in input costs, are likely to be responsible for a further change in 2009, admits Mr Payne. “This year, we’ll be renting our spring ground out for potatoes. We haven’t done this before, but the figures suggest that it will be the best option.”

High spring seed costs are a contributing factor, he says. “I’ve been quoted £500-600/t for seed, which is horrendous.”

Ten years ago, he had just started out using minimum tillage. “We haven’t ploughed anything since, so I am concerned about what state the ground will be in after potatoes have been grown. It will have to be ploughed for roots.”

A new grain store was built in 2004 with the help of an AMC loan. “Although I do make use of central storage, we needed the extra flexibility. It’s already paid for itself, so it was the right decision.”

He’s also been looking at other capital projects recently, although the credit crunch has bought these to a sudden halt. “Given the current economic climate, I don’t want to borrow any more.”

He has investigated office lets and distribution storage as alternative uses for barns, but feels frustrated by the lack of opportunity to take these any further. “There aren’t the funds available and our meetings with the planning authority weren’t very encouraging either.”

Mr Payne identifies his biggest immediate challenge as removing as much risk as possible from his marketing policy. “These are testing times. There’s been enormous volatility in the markets this year, which the experts believe is here to stay. So we need to find a way of coping with the fluctuations.”

Another aim is to try to run at the lowest unit cost possible, without sacrificing quality. “Like many others, we took advantage of the £50,000 allowance on capital purchases to buy some new kit earlier this year. We’re regretting it now.”

His other concern is the rise of single issue pressure groups such as the RSPB, which seem to have far more influence on government policy than he believes they should.

“We’ve gone into the Entry Level Scheme, but we haven’t been tempted by HLS yet. The policy makers need to remember that these schemes were devised with a grain price of £70/t. When wheat is worth more than that, they aren’t so attractive.”

Then

  • Total area – 650acres
  • Cropping – wheat, barley, oilseed rape, peas and oats
  • 100 acres grassland
  • Suckler beef herd

Now

  • Total area – 650acres
  • Cropping – wheat, barley, oilseed rape and peas
  • 20 acres permament pasture
  • Cash crop – hay for the horse market
  • Read how the Sinkler brothers have adapted their business