James farms alongside his father, Tim, and brother, Edward, over 2,500 acres (1,012 hectares). They grow winter wheat, winter barley, spring barley, beans, oilseed rape, maize and grass but the majority of their income comes from a breeding herd of 800 sows, which aim to produce around 18,000 pigs every year. These are produced for a well-known supermarket.
The piglets are weaned at four weeks old and moved into outdoor, straw-bedded tents for 10 weeks. Then they move indoors to straw yards for finishing until they reach a finished weight of around 115kg. They are sent directly to the abattoir from the farm at around 23 weeks.
The land was purchased by James’ grandfather in 1956. For many years it was an arable, sheep and pig farm. Indoor pigs were introduced in the 1970s and the farm stayed pretty much the same for 30 or more years.
Things started to change in 2016 when James and Edward took over the management of the business, aged just 32 and 30. In many farming families it is not uncommon for farmers in their late 70s to be making all the decisions, with children in their 30s and 40s still taking orders. Not on this farm, where dad Tim could see the value in handing over more responsibility to his sons.
James recognises the benefit in mixed farming – spreading risk across a number of different enterprises including non-farming ventures. Pig farming is very volatile, with huge price fluctuations, so the idea is if one part of the business is doing badly, another project will be doing well. It’s this business-minded approach that means James spends as much time in the office as he does on the farm.
The family have diversified into property lets (residential and commercial), renewable energy production, a self-storage franchise, contract farming and a new outdoor pig breeding unit (more on that below). The farm employs 12 full-time staff plus James, Edward and Tim.
One of the most significant changes to the business James has made is moving the sows outdoors. Until recently, the pigs were reared in sheds built in the 1970s and 1980s, which are no longer suitable. James was faced with a choice – either upgrade the buildings, stop production all together or farm the pigs in a different way. Renovating the buildings would have cost more than £5m so, with that, and several other reasons, he decided to set up an outdoor breeding unit which required less capital investment and presented less risk. Consequently, it enables the business to add value to the pork it produces under the RSPCA Freedom Foods movement. It’s early days but James believes he’s set the farm on a more sustainable path.
Alumni of the Worshipful Company of Farms, Institute of Agricultural Management, member of the National Farmers Union and the Conservative Rural Affairs Group.
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