Tag Archive: business

Celebrating Diversity

With the rural sector facing both challenges and opportunities in the coming years we look at one individual who has taken a very different approach to diversification.

Diversity

Over the past few years, George F. White have been delighted to support a number of awards across the region. We have been proud to learn about, and meet, many outstanding individuals and businesses in the rural sector.

From established traditional farming businesses through to diversification projects, and even individuals beginning their journey, the experience of being involved in regional awards, meeting the faces behind the stories, is a fascinating insight into the breadth and depth of skills and entrepreneurial spirit on our doorstep.

In early 2018 we were delighted to be part of the judging team for the Northern Farmer Awards, through our sponsorship of the Outstanding Achievement Award. Following many hours of deliberation amongst the knowledgeable and experienced panel, the winners were decided upon.

Whilst all those shortlisted, and of course the eventual winners, each are worthy of individual praise, there was one entry that stood out from the rest… that was Denys Fell who runs a farm near Hull in East Yorkshire.

Denys farms approximately 270 acres, mixing both organic arable and livestock in addition to fruit and nut trees, potatoes and cut flowers. However, it is not his endeavours in growing wheat or managing the flock of 200 sheep that stood out, but rather his diversification project, a community care centre based on Densholme Community Care Farm which really captivated the judges.

Denys saw the impact of the Foot and Mouth crisis in 2001 and was determined to help farmers struggling with loneliness, isolation and mental health issues, but he wasn’t really sure how.

Almost a decade ago, he invited three young men with profound mental health issues, living in a local care home, to visit the farm to help plant potatoes. Denys immediately saw the benefits of how the farm could provide assistance to those with disabilities, mental health issues, learning difficulties or suffering from addictions. The seed was planted.

Denys set up Densholme Community Care Farm, separate to his farming business, as a social enterprise which now employs ten people and looks after over 70 students per day. All the students have disabilities, mental health issues or learning difficulties and attend for up to four days per week on an entirely voluntary basis.

Denys is incredibly proud of the success of the project; how it has allowed the students to develop friendships, learn new skills and visibly grow in confidence.

It was telling that, for the Outstanding Achievement Award, the judging panel were unanimous in Denys being the winner. It was certainly no surprise on the night when he went on to pick up the Northern Farmer of the Year Award.

Diversification is a topic of significant debate at the moment with Brexit likely to bring about both new challenges and opportunities for those in all business sectors, but particularly rural enterprises. Understandably with much focus being on the efficiency and profitability of such businesses, it is all the more reason that the project undertaken by Denys Fell stood out above many impressive stories from all of the nominations.

To learn more about Denys Fell and the Densholme Community Care Farm, click here.

Removing the guess work in an unstable landscape

It is fair to say that, so far, 2018 has been interesting and far from consistent in terms of the BREXIT uncertainty, the commodity markets, and of course, the weather. Combined, they have caused an uncertainty for farmers around their business stability. We sat down with Partner, Simon Britton, to discuss what can be done in order to remove the guess work that many business owners face in the current climate.

uncertainty

The Beast from the East hit us in late February and March and will be remembered for many years and for many reasons. The farming sector is still suffering with the consequences of record snow fall and a delayed spring. 250,000 lambs loses were reported over the months of March, April and May and a delayed spring caused havoc in regards to predicting the success of the harvest. We were then faced with (and are still going through) the longest spell of hot weather since 1976; with forage supplies drying up, some of our clients have had to rely on their winter stocks. NFU president, Minette Batters, stated that “This unprecedented spell of weather really should be a wake-up call for us all. It’s a timely reminder that we shouldn’t take food production for granted. Farming is one of the most affected industries when it comes to managing volatility.”

Late last month, the Bank of England announced a base rate increase from 0.5% to 0.75%; the highest level since March 2009. There are, of course, benefits here for those saving; however, with mixed harvest reports and unstable commodity prices, there is an overall atmosphere of uncertainty for those farmers with loans on a variable rate. It has been suggested that interest rates may rise again, not once, but twice, before 2021, taking rates to 1.5%. I have a theory that the Bank of England, with these base rate rises, could be creating a buffer to be utilised in case of a hard BREXIT.

Wheat prices are at nearly £200 per tonne, whilst good news for arable farmers, this will no doubt put further pressure on livestock farmers already short of forage looking to buffer feed. It is hoped that arable farmers do not use this increase in income to mask under performance of their businesses which fundamentally need addressing.

I am not all doom and gloom! There is advice out there and measures that can be put in to place to ensure your business is resilient enough to face the challenges we are up against in this period of uncertainty; and you don’t have to do it all yourself.

I cannot stress enough how important it is to understand your business and how it operates on a financial footing; you would be very surprised at how few people know their business as well as they think they do. This is for a number of reasons, but namely, how much the industry has evolved over the past 10 years. The weather, interest rates and commodity prices are currently in the limelight, however, the impending BREXIT deal, as well as global politics, is set to dictate a change in the way we run our businesses. We must be proactively planning ahead, essentially future proofing our businesses in order to survive.

Initially, I would suggest:

  • Assess your business in real time, regularly reviewing output, cost and performance;
  • Undertake accurate budgeting and cash flow analysis in order to understand annual cash surpluses/deficits;
  • Make informed decisions, utilising sound financial assessment and analysis criteria.

We have a diverse range of clients, all with different needs in regards to farm business management. In order to meet their demands, we have begun to offer bespoke business management packages. For example, we are able to quantify the impact of financial change, speak to banks about capital and identify what the future impact will be on their business so that we can be proactive whilst planning for the next 12-24 months.

For more information about our management packages, please get in touch.

Simon Britton
Partner
07866 721146
simonbritton@georgefwhite.co.uk

Doddington Dairy

Doddington Dairy are, undoubtedly, one of the most recognisable locally produced food brands in the North East, they are also one of Northumberland’s very few remaining dairy farms. Their are sought-after across the length and breadth of the country, and over the years, it has received some of the highest industry accolades.

Doddington

It was almost 25 years ago, that brother and sister Neill and Margaret Ann Maxwell, who farm at Doddington near Wooler in Northumberland, realised that they needed to add value to their milk. After much research and training, they launched Doddington Cheese. In 2000, Neill and his wife Jackie went on to launch Doddington Dairy Ice Cream.

When they developed and marketed their cheeses, they were certainly ahead of the trend in terms of diversification. They were one of only a few companies in the UK producing hand-crafted, unpasteurised cheeses. When they launched their ice creams, they became the only farm-based ice cream producer between Aberdeenshire and York. Today, Doddington is one of the very few dairy farms left in Northumberland, they employ in the region of 20 members of staff in the dairy and on the farm, making them one of the largest employers in the Wooler and Glendale community.

The Maxwell family are passionate about their products and their local provenance. They have always used, and will only use, natural ingredients. Both cheeses and ice creams are still made from their own milk. As a high profile North East brand, where possible, in making their ice creams, cheeses and yoghurts, Doddington Dairy collaborate with other local producers and brands synonymous with the region; the most famous being Newcastle Brown Ale as well as Heather Honey Ice Cream, using Honey from The Chainbridge Honey Farm near Berwick, and Alnwick Rum Truffle Ice Cream.

Doddington Dairy is a progressive company and the Maxwell family work very hard to extend and improve their products. They don’t stand still and are always looking for new and innovative ideas to increase the range of both ice cream and cheese. They were the very first company in the UK to produce a beer ice cream, Newcastle Brown Ale ice cream. This took the media and the people of the North East by storm, so much so that it was even enjoyed by Jonathon Ross on BBC Radio 2. Continuing on their passion and pride for the North East, three years ago, to commemorate one of the North East’s greatest heroes, Grace Darling, Doddington launched their first Blue Cheese – Darling Blue. The team also celebrated the Sage Gateshead’s 10th anniversary and their tenth year of producing their own speciality labels for the award-winning music venue, they celebrated with a bespoke Strawberry and Champagne ice cream.

Today, alongside their collection of six cheeses and extensive range of luxury ice creams, Doddington also produce a range of yoghurts. Both plain and with fruity bottoms, the price remain as they did when the launched. They to, are handmade on the farm and use only the finest natural ingredients.

Doddington Dairy’s quality products have gained both regional and national recognition on many occasions. They have quite literally scooped dozens of awards. Their cheeses and ice creams have been tasted and enjoyed by countless celebrities, politicians, and members of the royal family. However, there has been one award which really stood out, the BBC Radio 4’s Food Producer of the Year, this was awarded for both the company’s exceptional quality products along with their commitment to their tremendous team of staff and the local community. As the only company in the North East ever to have scooped this accolade, it was quite literally the topping on the cone!

Looking to the future, Doddington aims to capitalise on the trend for online purchasing and are about to launch an ecommerce site to sell and promote their cheeses and cheese hampers.

Talking about the challenges the farming industry faces in the future, Neill said: “We face the biggest overhaul in the rural economy in 45 years; farm policy is being dictated by farm policy makers who have little or no understating of the rural business and life. As dairy farmers in England’s most Northern corners, and with fluctuating milk prices, we currently have little to be positive about. We are not in a renowned UK dairy farming area, so for us as a company producing both milk and dairy products, it is key that we work closely with our neighbouring dairy farmers to ensure the long–term future and sustainability of our enterprises”, says Neill.

David Hume, Senior Farm Business Consultant, says, “At George F. White, we understand the challenges and uncertainty that farmers and rural business owners face, whether that be with Brexit, general government policies and even the weather. We make sure to set time aside to research, attend conferences and we feed that information back to our clients. It is extremely important to us that we keep our clients up to date.”

Doddington cheese is available throughout the UK. The original cheese, Doddington, is one of the most popular for customers of ‘speciality cheese’ in London’s Neal’s Yard. The ice creams are available in delicatessens, speciality food shops, attractions and theatres across the North of England and Scotland. Yoghurts, still very much in their infancy, are also widely available across the North East.

For anyone who really wants to live and breathe the true taste of Doddington, a visit to their iconic Milk Bar (on Route A697) at Wooler is a must. What better way to enjoy a trip out than to have the finest of Doddington cheese in a cheese scone, followed by a cone of delight in a Doddington Dairy ice cream?

Click here to read more of Field Notes.

Farmers Are Too Reliant on Subsidies as Brexit Looms

With just over six months to go until we officially leave the European Union (EU), Simon Britton, Partner at George F. White, highlighted just how reliant farmers across the North are on EU subsidy payments.

Farmers

Our decision to leave the EU has exposed the farming industry’s over dependence on subsidies. According to the Farm Business Income (FBI) Survey, the average profit for a farming business in Yorkshire & Humber over the last 5 years was £103 per acre, farmers received £73 per acre, over the same period, in subsidies. In the North East, farm profits over the last 5 years have averaged £57 per acre, with farmers receiving £80 per acre from subsidies. Many farming businesses are dependent on subsidy; however, it is not clear that these businesses understand to what extent their dependence relies on EU payments.

To highlight these issues, George F. White hosted a panel debate at the Great Yorkshire Show. The purpose of the debate, in which key speakers, including Geoff Hall, Regional Director at Lloyds Bank, John Lund, a livestock farmer, Tom Bayston, an arable farmer and owner of Park Lodge Shooting School, as well Miles Crossley and Simon Britton from George F. White, was to discuss how farmers can prepare for the long-lasting changes Brexit will create, focusing on changes to subsidy, increased commodity and currency volatility and shortages of labour.

Mr George Eustice, the Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food recently described his vision for post Brexit Agricultural Policy within the UK as ‘a change in mind set for farmers.’ The Minister said that he saw new policy as ‘rewarding and incentivising farmers for what they do and not subsidising them for income lost’. He indicated that  the government will seek to support farmers, not based on the amount of land farmers own, but to reward them for helping the environment, water quality and to changes in husbandry, ultimately making more productive working practices.

DEFRA has set out its thoughts on a new Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELM) where farms and landowners will effectively quote a ‘price’ for the work based on a set ‘price list’. It is understood that those plans offering the best in value to the tax payer will be accepted.

Although we understand that farm subsidies are protected until 2022, my advice to farmers would be to utilise this time frame in order to fundamentally understand their business by preparing management accounts which will highlight farm income streams and to what degree their businesses are reliant on grants and subsidies. We can see from the previously mentioned statistics that the majority of farms in the North East and Yorkshire & Humber are hugely reliant on farm subsidy support. These farmers need to make changes to de-risk their businesses and ultimately future proof them, so they can operate with reduced funding support.

If you would like to start understanding and de-risking your business and its reliance on farm subsidies please contact Simon Britton simonbritton@georgefwhite.co.uk or 07866 721146.

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