Sunday, November 19, 2017

Organic success tastes great for dairy farm

November 1, 2017 by  
Filed under Profiles

An ambitious investment and cost-saving programme has seen Paul Redmore revitalise Neston Home Farm at Corsham, Wiltshire.

Award-winning farm manager Paul Redmore has transformed Neston Home Farm into an efficient and forward-looking profit-making business in less than five years.

Based at Corsham, Wiltshire, the farm encompasses some 565ha on the Fuller family’s Neston Estate. It includes a 320-cow organic dairy herd, 250 breeding ewes, 100 beef cattle and 160ha of organic arable cropping – as well as historic parkland and 15ha of conservation stewardship.

Mr Redmore was appointed farm manager four years ago, having managed farms and estates across the south of England – including a six year stint as farm manager at Bicton College, Devon. A Seale Hayne graduate, he had also spent three years working in Canada, New Zealand and Austrialia.

“I wanted to get back working for a family estate again,” he explains. “Neston ticked all the boxes. It is organic, which I had done before and it had cows, which I enjoy working with. And as a farm, it had lots of untapped potential.”

The farm had been ticking over the some time, says Mr Redmore. “It was holding its own but I could see if it wasn’t made more efficient and didn’t revamp, it would soon be requiring lots of money pumping in just to stand still.”

In the 18 months after his arrival, Mr Redmore increased cow numbers from 140 to 320. He also commissioned the installation of a 24×24 De Laval parlour complete with DelPro software to replace the ageing 12×12 Westfalia.

Productivity

Mr Redmore installed LED lighting in cow housing to provide 180 lux for 16 hours each day with help from a Countryside Productivity Scheme (ERDF) grant – reducing electricity costs by 50% and improving milk yields by 2%.

“Overall, we’ve managed to push up byields by 25% in four years,” he says.

“Borrowing money is cheap – it still is – and everything is done on a commercial basis rather than being bank-rolled by the family owners. We took out a £750k  AMC loan to do the parlour and winter accommodation but it was done on the back of a business plan, not because it is an estate.”

Photovoltaic panels were installed to further cut electricity costs and increase efficiency – and a borehole was sunk to reduce the farm’s water bill. “The aim was to bring everything into the 21st century so the business could stand on its own two feet.”

The strategy has worked. Last month, Mr Redmore was named the Silver Winner in the Dairy Innovation category of the British Farming Awards, run by Farmers Guardian. He was also a finalist in this year’s Farmers Weekly Awards.

Cows are paddock grazed for six months on PRG/clover leys and plate metering is done in the grazing season to optimise grass utilisation. Selective dry cow therapy has reduced antibiotic use, saving of £1,000 each month and reducing the risk of antimicrobial resistance.

Keeping track of cow fertility, health and welfare has become straightforward, with the use of a multi-purpose smaXtec bolus. By measuring cow temperature and activity levels, the bolus system is able to flag up numerous issues that might otherwise go unnoticed.

Focus on labour

The bolus removes the need for collars, heat strips and other monitoring devices, says Mr Redmore. “It’s the most accurate calving alert we’ve come across. Any cow with a bolus has produced an alert typically 12-15 hours before she calves, which enables us to focus our labour.”

“As well increasing our grassland management, we introduced proper nutrition and vaccination programmes,” says Mr Redmore. “It’s meant we’ve been able to push the amount of milk obtained from forage up from 36% to 57%.”

None of this would have been achieved without a dedicated team of staff, he adds. They include tractor driver Jason Moss, herd manager Paul Newland and assistant herd manager James Brown. “They are a really good team.”

The farm’s machinery replacement policy has also been updated. Rather than being purchased, most is now hired in. It keeps expenses to a minimum, means machines are more reliable, replacements are on hand and equipment is updated every other year.

But it is important to point out that the strategy hasn’t revolved solely around reducing costs – it is also about increasing revenue. As the milk market improved, Mr Redmore was able to renegotiate his milk price. Further value is added by turning it into artisan cheese and ice-cream.

Milk is mainly sold to Ivy House Farm Dairy in Somerset, which supplies a number of high-end customers with organic dairy products. Customers include Fortnum & Mason, Selfridges, Neal’s Yard Dairy and the Monmouth Coffee shop chain in London.

Start-up businesses

Other milk goes to Lye Cross Dairy. But an increasing amount is turned into artisan cheese and ice-cream at Neston Farm itself. The farm is home to the Old Cheese Room and Luscious Ice Cream – both separate start-up businesses founded since Mr Redmore’s arrival.

“We are keen to grow the markets for our milk and we enjoy supporting start-up businesses,” he says. “We supported the Old Cheese Room by providing free water and electricity as well as rent-free premises for their first year. It is working very well.”

Luscious Ice Cream is a partnership between the company’s founders, the Fuller family, Mr Redmore himself and a local couple who were keen to start a new artisan organic food enterprise. Each has a 25% stake in the business, which is based in some renovated buildings on the farm which were freed-up when the new parlour was installed.

Success, says Mr Redmore, has been to look at the business as a whole, identifying the weak spots and pinpointing the best way to improve them while taking the appropriate amount of risk – and doing lots of budgets and costings.

“You have to be honest with yourself,” he explains. “You mustn’t be afraid to invest but at the same time it is important to err on the side of caution rather than being overly optimistic. That way you can afford to take risks knowing that you’ve built in an affordable margin of error.”

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