Sunday, May 31, 2020

Feeding of 5,000 is no miracle

July 4, 2016 by  
Filed under Profiles


Thousands of people are fed by Gatley Farms, near Leominster, Herefordshire.

Owned by Philip Dunne MP and his wife Domenica, Gatley Farms feeds an estimated 5,000 people with cereals, potatoes, lamb and beef from its 910ha (2240 acres) from its base at Leinthall Earls, Leominster, Herefordshire.

It is quite some achievement for the 10 staff employed across the farm all of whom take lead roles in different aspects of the day-to-day management of the mixed enterprises, says Stuart Hutchings, who has managed the business for more than 30 years.

“The overall objective is to grow the net worth of the business by producing quality food but at the same time taking care of the land, the farm infrastructure and its wildlife,” Mr Hutchings explains.

The business rolls across several steep-sided valleys in north Herefordshire close to the village of Wigmore and within the catchment of the River Teme. Lighter land gives way to heavier clay soils providing a diverse range of soil types and cropping limitations.

Of the 910ha, some 610ha (1500ac) are owned and 300ha (740ac) rented. About  200ha (500 acres) of the owned land is Grade 3 arable. It supports a six year rotation, including Estima and Melody potatoes grown for baking and packing markets.

About 60ha (150 acres) is shallow Grade 4 soils. It supports winter and spring malting barley, including Maris Otter grown for specialist micro brewers including Hobsons and Brew by Numbers, which is part-owned by Mr Hutchings’ son Tom.

A further 100 hectares is north-facing Grade 4 soils supporting long silage leys and two years of cereal. Some 250 hectares (617 acres) of permanent pasture supporting a suckler herd of Stabiliser cattle and 1300-ewe sheep flock being Welsh Mule X Lleyns.

“Our potato crop covers 100ha including 50ha of Grade 2 and 3 land rented on an annual basis,” explains Mr Hutchings. “Oversupply meant 2014 wasn’t a good year so the better margins of 2015 were needed badly to help redress the balance.

“The potato operation (as a whole) is being updated as part of on-going investment as the crop accounts for 40% of the overall farm gross margin. We have cold storage for 5000t in bulk wooden boxes.”

Summer storage

Dual purpose storage is being built this summer in a drive to separate any cross-over traffic between livestock buildings and the adjacent potato and corn stores. “We still utilise emptied cattle buildings during summer to temporarily store grain.”

The profit from the vast array of enterprises is invested diligently, it is suggested. “I take good care of the cash,” he says, referring to the reinvestment policy in machinery. For a unit of its size and diversity, it is not elaborate.

Recent purchases include a New Holland CSX7080 combine supplied by Teme Valley Tractors suited to the topography of the area: a Grimme CS150 Combistar destoner and GB215 BeltPlanter.

“Our tractor fleet is modest – two New Holland T7 200 and T7 270 – and the main sprayer is a mounted unit carried on an A-registration MB Trac – it does perfectly well.”

Labour is also metered out carefully with everyone being given specific lead and support role responsibility across the arable and livestock enterprises. “It works well,” says Mr Hutchings, who believes staff from their early 20s benefit from being given defined roles.

Four staff are employed on the arable side, two with livestock plus a young worker that moves across both sectors. “We all come together at key times of the year to share the workload such as at harvest.”

Taking into account his role as manager and the casual labour called in during lambing, calving and harvesting times it is calculated that two staff effectively feed 1000 people supported on the food output of Gatley Farms – a novel benchmark.

“The farm is not without its limitations,” he continues. “We occupy a micro-climate all of our own and that does bring specific disease pressures particularly for the cereal crops.”

Strike a balance

With 140ha of wheat grown for milling – specifically Skyfall and Crusoe varieties – attracting a £20/t premium and the malting barley for independent and micro brewers there is a drive to strike a balance between clean crops to make approval and not over-stretching either spray budgets or chemical use.

“The Maris Otter is a case in point. Get it wrong and then we’re left a feed barley but one that doesn’t have the benefit of yield. So there is a balance to be struck,” he explains.

But balance is self evident across the whole of the integrated farm business. There is also a drive to try and seek out knowledge on new technologies and varieties that may suit the business’ future arable rotation cropping (Gatley hosts both Agrii and ADAS trial plots and open days).

Other investments have included 240kw of photo voltaic arrays by Caplor Energy on the potato cold store helping reduce energy bills. Adding to diversity are the 35 woods managed for amenity and timber with a preference for thinning rather than clear felling.

“I think it’s impressive that we are able to produce quality food off this unit to effectively feed 5000 people,” he concludes. “But that has to be done with consideration – my aim is to enhance the business; and build output matched to committed customers.”

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