Local Food Farmer of the Year Finalist – Richard Stirling

When good people and strong relationships come together, you are usually on to a winning ticket. That’s exactly what has happened at The Manydown Company, Manor Farm, Wootton St Lawrence, Basingstoke in Hampshire.

The three key personalities at the heart of this farming and shop enterprise are Richard Stirling, the farm manager, Roy Hibbin, the retail consultant, and Terry Tarrant, the shop manager. They share an enthusiasm for local food and a commitment to each other founded out of years of building the business together.

The Manydown Company is a family-owned 2020ha (5000-acre) mixed estate, which was bought by Plymouth MP Sir Edward Bates in 1871 and has been held by his descendants ever since. The estate includes combinable crops, livestock and a farm shop.

Manor Farm, the main operation, is an impressive example of a fully integrated farm and retail unit complementing and supporting each other. The shop sells home-produced beef, lamb, free-range chicken and pork and speciality foods from other local suppliers.

The business was originally set up in 1994 to market the beef from a 150-suckler herd using traditional rearing systems. Today, there are 230 cows including pedigree Aberdeen Angus, 1000 ewes crossed to Hampshire Down rams, 1500 free-range chickens and four Large Black breeding sows.

Critical to its success has been the determination of shop manager Terry Tarrant, who started his butchery career in London as a Saturday boy and later trained at Smithfield College.

Terry now lives with his young family in a detached house next door to the shop. “He is a craft-trained butcher and understands retailing. He’s taken the shop from humble beginnings to where it is now,” said Richard Stirling. “Terry is constantly in touch with the herdsman as to quality and carcass finish, so he gets exactly what he needs for the shop.”

Local planners are notoriously sticky about new buildings and road signs, but the Manor Farm team have not been put off. Their constant evolution of the shop has lifted turnover and they have resolved challenges as they arise.

For example, home-made pies were introduced as a way of using whole carcasses and reducing waste. Sales grew from a 20 pies a week to over 1000, adding value to the by-products of a high-trim business.

Terry Tarrant keeps an eye on prices, particularly meat, every week. Manydown’s homegrown meat commands top prices such as £21.99/kg for rib eye steak, £45.99 for fillet and £24.99 for sirloin.

The staff work hard at communication with the customer and in the summer they provide farm tours, barbeques and butchery demonstrations. Over 500 people visited on Open Farm Sunday.

Richard Stirling has been involved in the business for 20 years and is rightly proud of its local food, low food miles credentials. When asked why they had not gone organic, he was quick to reply: “We think we are better than organic. What Prince Charles is doing is great but it’s not the real world,” he said. “We are already at the top end of the premium market.”

Terry Tarrant added: “All the customers really want is to be reassured of animal welfare and where their food comes from. If we went organic, I don’t think customers would necessarily pay the extra.”

Farm facts

  • Shop turnover of £1m with £225,000 overheads

  • 15 full-time and four part-time staff

  • Farm has 230 cows, 1000 ewes, 1500 free-range chickens, four breeding sows

What the judges liked

  • Fully integrated farm and shop clearly benefiting from the synergies between the two

  • Fully aware of the market and its growth potential

  • Business growth hand in hand with environmental objectives

  • Great marketing and pricing of their own meat

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