Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Fenwick Brothers: Major family business has farming at its heart

June 4, 2019 by  
Filed under Profiles

Lincolnshire-based Fenwick Brothers have a proud agricultural heritage. Alan Stennett reports.

A great-grandfather’s farming bequest has led to a major Lincolnshire business with interests in haulage, storage and sporting activities – alongside a large-scale agricultural operation.

Fenwick Brothers is owned and run by father and son Jonathan and William Fenwick, operating from a base on the Lincolnshire Wolds at the same Beelsby House Farm that William’s great grandfather bought in 1947.

He had seven sons, two of whom, William’s grandfather Raymond and his brother Ralph, set up Fenwick Brothers in 1954, making William the fourth generation Fenwick on the farm and the third in the business.

Today, the family business is supported by a staff of 33 across the farming, haulage, shooting and workshop aspects of the company, of whom four, with Jonathan and William, run the farming and contracting sides.

More than 800ha of arable land are farmed, split between two farms around the villages of Beelsby and Claxby. An additional 40ha of permanent grass is currently used for sheep in a partnership with a neighbour.

Alongside their own farming operations they are also agricultural contractors covering another 1,000ha, from single operations to full stubble to stubble contracts.

Flexible operation

“We can do whatever anyone wants us to do,” says William. If it is 100 acres of ploughing, that’s great – and if they want a full contract agreement, that’s great too.”

He admits that the capital cost of keeping all the kit for both jobs is substantial, and that continual upgrading is needed. But the ongoing political uncertainty around farming is making him reluctant to make major changes.

Most is John Deere, and William likes the compatibility that a single-colour fleet offers.

Current in-house cropping includes 350ha winter wheat, 100ha winter and 130ha spring barley, 110ha winter oilseed rape, about 30ha of winter beans and 42ha spring beans. The rotation, according to William, is designed for simple operation.

“We used to grow a much wider range, but we simplified dramatically a few years ago, cut back the staff and went over almost completely to things that would go through the combine.”

Their Wolds land is good for spring barley, and the overall high levels of spring cropping helps to combat blackgrass, although it is only a serious problem on the heavier land farm at Claxby, where hybrid winter barleys are being grown to try to swamp the weed.

Other enterprises

Spring crops were also beneficial in the past when a commercial pheasant and partridge shoot across the farm required large areas of over-wintered stubble. That business ended five years ago, although a clay ground is maintained at Claxby.

It includes a 100 bird sporting layout, individual or team flushes and a high bird tower, with facilities for private tuition, taster sessions and corporate events for up to 50 people, with catering available if required.

Oilseed rape remains a key part of the rotation, and most is looking well. Cabbage stem flea beetle is not a major problem so far, although infestation was found recently in one location. Spring rape was tried for three years, but proved uneconomic, and is not now grown.

Some 20ha are let out for potatoes, making use of irrigation facilities put in when the farm was growing them as well as carrots and onions. William believes it might also be a good option on some of their lighter, sandy lands.

About 34ha are now down to sugar beet, a crop the company went out of when local factories closed, but came back to three years ago when new contracts were on offer.

“We are finding that it gives a good margin, but the main thing is to provide an alternative break crop, because we are short of those.”

Haulage business

Fenwick Brothers own a haulage business, and moved their own beet for two years, but this coming year they have changed over to British Sugar’s own delivery system.

“The tipper did do three trips to Newark a day, but we’re so busy on the general haulage side that it makes more sense to keep the unit with a curtain-side trailer and let the tipper boys do the beet.”

Haulage began on a small scale.

“There was always a lorry on the farm – I can just remember a little red four-wheeler – but my father made the move when we were selling a lot of vegetables for processing. He bought an artic to take loads to processors in the south of the county.

That’s how it all started, but there was only him and one other driver with too much work, so they bought another lorry and looked for other work outside the carrot season.”

The company now has a fleet of 26 vehicles and 45 trailers travelling all over the UK, although a lot of business is sourced from or delivers to the nearby port at Immingham. Until recently, two thirds of drivers came from the EU but the devaluation of the pound and better prospects at home reduced the numbers applying. Recruiting locals is proving difficult, but they are managing so far.

Curtain-siders

Grain and fertilisers are moved in bulk, with commodities carried on curtain-sided trailers. William points out that they can offer haulage services in conjunction with their own TASCC assured 12,000t storage and drying business.

“We can do a complete job for someone with wet grain – we can collect it, weigh it, dry and condition it, store it and deliver it, either back to the grower or to wherever he wants it to go.”

New storage space was added recently, equipped with a 38t Opico batch drier capable of drying over 150t/day. Planning permission has been obtained for another store.

The farms are in entry and higher level environmental schemes, with 5ha of rotational wild bird cover included in each scheme, and more than 50ha of over-wintered stubbles. The agreements have two more years to run.

William admits he doesn’t know what the future of them – or farming in general – will be, despite the general health of all their operations. “Who knows? I have my optimistic days and my pessimistic days – it’s the uncertainty about everything at the moment.”

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