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Young Farmer Focus: Sarah and Duncan Howie - 'There's nothing more rewarding than waking up every morning to be running our own business'

Duncan and Sarah Howie, 31 and 29, help run Sarah’s family farming business milking 300 dairy cows and farm 202 hectares (500 acres) alongside their surveying business Howie, Kent & Co. Duncan grew up on an arable and pig farm in Essex and studied at the Royal Agricultural University. Sarah has a degree in land economy from Cambridge University.

Growing up: Farming has been an embedded part of both of our upbringings and something we are enormously passionate about.

 

Moving to Shropshire was both a difficult and easy decision. We have moved away from a lot of friends and Duncan’s family in Essex, but the opportunities and rewards in running our own surveying business alongside the dairy farm are exciting.

 

We have come to quickly learn farming requires a multi-faceted skill set. From day-to-day husbandry and manual labour, to technical ration planning, breeding and financial performance, farming requires an entrepreneurial mindset and business acumen.

 

As new entrants, we have plenty to learn on a practical and business level. With the introduction of new technologies and innovations, we are eager to trial new ideas on the farm and are constantly developing our skills and knowledge.

 

Learning: Joining discussion groups such as the Staffordshire based grazing group Swardmasters has proved hugely beneficial to our learning, teaching us about the practicalities of extensive grazing and the intricacies of converting to an autumn block calving pattern.

 

A group of our local dairy farming peers and friends from Young Farmers have also started a benchmarking group where we regularly meet to discuss our set-ups, approaches, and systems.

 

Talking to other farmers, sharing ideas, setting goals and making comparisons about performance is an invaluable way to improve our own herd performance.

 

Business: When we moved to Shropshire, we knew the farm alone would not be enough to sustain three generations of the family. We needed to look at other revenue streams.

 

We had always had a vision to create our own business together, and so, paired with more than 10 years’ surveying experience between us, it made sense to set up our own rural professional firm.

 

In June 2016 we launched Howie, Kent & Co. The business provides general rural property advice, but we specialise in agency, energy projects and residential and commercial development and in February of this year we expanded the company to include a lettings service.

 

There is nothing more rewarding than waking up every morning to be running our own business. What we love most is the diversity.

 

Since joining the farm, we have tried to implement new ideas, with the objective to streamline efficiencies and improve performance. We are converting the all year-round calving pattern to autumn block calving to reduce our cost of production and give a better work-life balance.

 

We have also increased focus on milk from forage, extending the grazing season and reducing concentrate use.

 

Our overall goal is to improve profit margin by reducing cost of production.

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