2013-10-04   facebooktwitterrss
Cumbrian Farmer Wins Farmers Weekly Award

Penrith farmer Richard Price was named Farm Manager of the Year, at the Farmers Weekly Awards. The judges said: “Richard relishes a challenge and in just five years he has transformed the estate’s 1292ha in-hand farming operation.”

Richard Price relishes a challenge. In five years he has transformed the 1,292ha in-hand farming operation at the Lowther Estate in Cumbria.

Richard Price

Richard Price

His bold approach has created positive cashflow and set up the estate's farming business for a profitable future. Consolidation, attention to detail and simplifying the business are core elements of his winning strategy.

A change of ownership and the need to reorganise enterprises and staff and tackle historical debt put him on a steep learning curve from his first day.

A five-to seven-year plan drawn up by Richard at the start included identification of business risks. His regular monitoring of these risks is key in his management approach.

One of Richard's first big decisions was to switch the high-profile estate's in-hand farming business back from organic to conventional production. More than 300ha of arable cropping has also been introduced, as well as 200 summer-grazing store cattle.

Increased output and longevity is the aim behind another key policy change in the sheep enterprise, which has moved from 3,200 Lleyn cross ewes and 400 pedigree Lleyn ewes to 5,000 Mule ewes.

The organic poultry unit of 1,000 laying hens that also produced 1,200 table birds a week has gone, as have the 250 suckler cows.

Richard's decisions to invest in infrastructure, machinery and staff have been designed to give estate owner Jim Lowther the "smart, ethical and profitable business" he wants. A large machinery investment reduces reliance on contractors in a variable climate.

New marketing arrangements and collaboration with neighbours are also important achievements. A bolder approach to lamb marketing - securing a premium for commitment - paid off last year when prices plummeted.

Working more closely with some of the estate's 90 farming tenants has opened the door for further co-operation. Agreements with local dairy farmers provide contract silage supplied from the estate, which then imports tenants' surplus manure and slurry.

When Richard joined, the farm staff included 16 full-timers plus part-timers. By this spring the staff had been reduced to four full-timers, three of whom Richard recruited.

The wage bill has been reduced by 75% and the remaining jobs are more secure than those of five years ago, but with so many livelihoods affected, the staff changes were the most difficult aspect of Richard's challenge.

Staff, systems, communication and technology are key for efficient production, he says. Visits to industry events help include staff in investment decisions.

Richard is becoming increasingly involved in commercial events on the estate. Lowther also hosts non-profit events such as Riding for the Disabled, school visits and walking trails, and is a LEAF farm with an HLS/ELS agreement. Richard wants to ensure Lowther Park Farms is resilient, financially strong, durable and profitable post-CAP reform.

Farmers Weekly

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