The farming business community had the chance to hear from leading agricultural innovators in Gloucestershire at an event at Hartpury this week.
Two Gloucestershire farmers talked to an audience from the agriculture industry and staff from Hartpury’s new Innovation Careers and Enterprise Centre about how they had boosted their businesses through diversification.
Surveyor Vicky Price and Agri-Business Consultant, James Fulton, from Berrys also addressed the business breakfast, providing an insight into current opportunities in the industry and market trends and giving an overview of the grant funding available.
After an introduction by Hartpury Principal, Russell Marchant, the audience heard from Assistant Principal (Further Education), Claire Whitworth about the scope of the new Innovation, Careers and Enterprise Centre and how it could work with and benefit their businesses.
She said: “This initiative has been two years in development and we’re really excited about the exciting opportunities it will offer for business and education to work more closely together.
“We can provide rural professional and practical short courses to businesses in everything from pesticide application and chainsaw operation to leadership and management and bespoke training, plus the centre will co-ordinate work placements for our students in local farms and other agricultural businesses.
“We’re one of only two colleges we’re aware of where agriculture students complete the middle year of their three-year course working in the industry. We’re committed to developing even more opportunities and enterprise initiatives that will bring students and employers closer together; ensuring our students stand out from the crowd when they leave us and can hit the ground running in the workplace.”
Hartpury Chair of Governors and owner of The Moat and Highnam Farm, Edward Keene, then spoke to the audience about how his family’s farming operation has diversified over many years.
While the farm boasts 800 acres of arable land and plus 400 acres of fruit split equally between cider apples and blackcurrants, they have also developed Highnam Business Park – serving the needs of 30 businesses – built a facility to clean, dry and store grain for 30 local farmers and rent out land for the 18-hole Rodway Hill Golf Course.
Edward’s family have been the blackcurrant business since the 1950s with a reputation for providing quality fruit to Ribena. They have invested in two specialist harvesters for the blackcurrants and another state of the art machine for harvesting their cider apples.
He said: “Everything we do is designed to ensure we can keep farming; to preserve the business as an asset for the next generation. You have to stay ahead of the game when it comes to quality and innovation to continue to secure and keep contracts with major suppliers.
“I’m a farmer but I consider myself an asset manager. My priority is to get the most out of our land and property and the key to that is customer service, continuous improvement and making the most of new opportunities.”
Melissa Ravenhill then gave an overview of how her family dairy farming operation – Woefuldane Organic Dairy - has transformed after diversifying into cheese production.
After investing £4000 into a small cheese-making set-up, they converted a stable next to the dairy into a cheese room and Melissa, who had no experience, set about perfecting their product.
Although they then moved to another Gloucestershire County Council tenant farm in Minchinhampton, the business has gone from strength to strength. They now sell their own organic bottled milk to the local community, as well as cheeses, butter and yoghurt, from their own shop in Minchinhampton and at farmers’ markets. They also supply their son’s café next door to the shop and deliver to other local cafes, hotels and restaurants. Their shop has won the award for ‘Best Local Outlet’ in the Food and Farming Awards for three years running.
Melissa said: “We’re never going to be mainstream or massive but I think we’ve proved that you don’t need massive investment to diversify successfully. For us, expanding and changing our business in this way has been the only way to stay in dairy farming.
“It’s so hands on. I make everything myself while my husband runs the dairy and it’s hard work but it’s worth it. We’ve gone for a niche product, we’re in charge or our milk price and we’re feeding the people of Minchinhampton, who love what we make. We take real pride in what we do.”
After the keynote speeches, the guests were able to go on a tour of the farm and the wider Hartpury campus and had the opportunity to network.