PIGS AND ARABLE, SOMERSET: Patrick rears pigs, but to make ends meet he also farms 225 acres (91 hectares) growing wheat, barley, grass for hay, and industrial hemp for oil and gluten-free flour.
The two sides of the business help each other. The pig muck, for instance, reduces the need to use synthetic fertilisers on the crops. And the straw from the wheat, barley and hemp provides useful pig bedding.
Patrick doesn't breed his own pigs. He is supplied with 250 weaners from another farm every six weeks for fattening. These pigs have been born outdoors and weaned off their mothers at five weeks old. They weigh around 15kg when they arrive and will be fattened to about 105 kg. By the time they are ready for slaughter the pigs are five to six months old.
Patrick sends 80 bacon pigs to the abattoir every fortnight. It is a continuous, rotating system and there can be around 900 pigs on the farm at any one time. They are assured under various schemes including Red Tractor and RSPCA.
It was Patrick's father who set up the farm. He bought 10 acres (4 hectares) in the late 1960s and started farming with 90 sows (female breeding pigs). Gradually he got up to 220 sows, which he fed on milk, ice cream, Guinness and yoghurt.
Patrick didn't join the family business straight away. He studied agriculture for three years at college and worked in Canada for a year on a dairy farm and broiler unit.
By the time Patrick took on the family farm in late 1990s he could see it couldn't survive on pigs alone, so he started to diversify. He used 46 acres (19 hectares) of his land to set up a 10.9 megawatt solar park. He now also makes an income from renting the grazing among the 43,000 solar panels to a local sheep farmer.
Other income strands include taking in green waste from the local authority for on-farm composting and growing miscanthus as a biomass energy crop. Growing hemp is also a recent development. “Hemp is the perfect crop as it improves soil structure and does not need fertilisers or pesticides,” says Patrick. “It’s a no-brainer.”
But Patrick's most novel diversification is his crockery hire business. One of his farm buildings houses 3,000 pieces of crockery and 2,000 wine glasses, which are hired out for weddings and corporate events. It provides valuable extra income, insulated from the volatility of pig farming. Plates hold their value better than pigs at times!
Patrick is interested in farm education. The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) used to subsidise school visits as part of the Entry Level Stewardship (ELS) scheme. Patrick converted an old barn into a classroom and welcomed 2,500 visitors, mainly schoolchildren, a year on curriculum-based visits. Funding was withdrawn in the mid-2000s and the classroom has become a storeroom, largely unused. Patrick feels this is a great shame. He can’t afford to subsidise school visits himself but, more importantly, it prevents children from learning about food and farming.
Member of NFU. On Forest of Selwood Steering Group.