Farmers share their ideas

Rob Fox
Rob Fox
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Building and improving soil structures, controlling weed burdens and keeping control of production costs - these are three of the biggest challenges facing Warwickshire farm manager Rob Fox.

He has been running the 1,000-acre Squab Hall Farm in Bishop’s Tachbrook for the past five years, and last year volunteered to be part of the new HGCA Monitor Farms programme, a decision he’s delighted he made.

Rob said: “I’ve always been very interested in collaboration and benchmarking – knowing what you are doing, why you are doing it, and how you compare with other farmers. Being part of this programme has made me strip back the business, examine each piece of what we do individually, and question the best way for us to move ahead.”

Rob has had two meetings on his farm to date, each attracting up to 20 fellow farmers keen to share ideas and strategies, and learn from one another.

His November meeting featured an overview of the 2014 harvest and costs of production, and in January he will welcome the group back to discuss grain storage and marketing.

“This farm has gone through a huge process of diversification, with a removals franchise, document storage business, self-access rooms, a furniture operation, and shredding business all based here.

“But one of our visions is that each of the businesses, including every aspect of the farm, must stack up by itself and be able to support itself. Nothing is run as a sideline.”

This commitment has led to a five-year rotation with feed winter wheat and winter barley, oilseed rape, spring beans and malting spring barley all grown on the 900 cropable acres.

“Being part of the Monitor Farms programme is making me drill down into the finer details of why we do some of the things we do. Margins are very tight, farming is volatile, and we need to examine everything we do. Within our group we have some very forward-thinking farmers, and we have really thought-provoking discussions.”

Rob points out that everyone can make a living when wheat prices are £190/tonne, but says it’s a different story when the price plummets to £115/tonne. “We have to know exactly what we’re spending, and why, to get us through the lean times.”

He says the Monitor Farms programme has encouraged him to ‘take a step back’ and take a closer look at soil health and weed burdens.

“Our concentration on high production, intensive rape and wheat has built up pressure on our soils. It has given us good yields, but probably hasn’t helped us with our soil care long term.”

The next meeting at the Leamington Monitor Farm is on December 18 at 9am, when the topic will be benchmarking.

To attend the meeting, contact HGCA regional manager Richard Meredith on west@hgca.ahdb.org.uk or by calling 07717 493015.

For more information visit hgca.com/leamingtonspa