A new wave of rural entrepreneurs is making its mark on Staffordshire’s county farms using innovation and cooperation to boost productivity and the local economy.
New tenancy opportunities are advertised in farming publications, the local tenants’ newsletter, website and on the Staffordshire County Farms Facebook page, where people can keep an eye on regular updates.
Tenants across the estate have just received a welcome boost with the news that a rent review has been postponed for 12 months.
Some of the estate’s latest tenants have been demonstrating drive and ability to apply a range of farming systems to their businesses.
Neighbour tenants Mike Trayte and James Tattershall are showing what it takes to manage a county farm successfully – using different systems and built on different experiences but with the same determination to succeed.
And as neighbours on their holdings just north of Stafford, they work together and with other nearby tenants where possible to boost efficiencies and keep outgoings to a minimum.
Examples of working in collaboration include buying fertiliser in bulk, recycling astro-turf for use of cow track and sourcing additional silage ground off the estate.
Mike moved onto his holding in September last year with his wife Laura and twin sons Oscar and Henry, who are 18-months-old.
Mike, with a degree in agriculture with countryside management from Aberystwyth, met Laura, who graduated at Shropshire’s Harper Adams University while working at a 300-herd dairy unit.
The couple were then invited to take on their own share-milking business in Lincolnshire, providing all management to a 350 cow dairy herd.
This included employing labour, organising contractors and suppliers and day-to-day running of the unit. This invaluable experience demonstrated their business aptitude and set them in good stead for the county farms selection process.
The Trayte’s business, M & L Dairying Ltd, involves managing an 85 cow dairy herd, supplying Muller Wiseman.
As well as the landlord investing in the holding’s infrastructure including a new, 100 cow cubicle building with dry cow yard, Mike and Laura have also invested and have already seen business growth in the first six months.
Mike said: “One of the key things to running the business is to be flexible – you can’t be stuck in your ways. Our experience share-milking and managing a herd definitely put us in good stead through the selection process for our county farms tenancy.
“Staffordshire has a good reputation for its county farms and its Facebook page was excellent – giving us all the information we needed to make the move.
We’re ambitious to progress and have been given good support here. Eventually we’d like to be in a position where we could build up a herd of up to 300 cows which we could pass on to the twins if this is what they want to go in to.”
Next door James is managing a herd of 110 cows having started out with 20 in 2011.
James has invested in the holding and is now taking on an additional 20 acres of land to expand his holding.
Together with his wife Vicky, who also runs her own egg selling enterprise, James has his sights firmly set on future growth. The Tattershalls supply their milk to Joseph Heler Cheese.
Staffordshire County Council’s cabinet member for county farms Gill Heath said: “Mike and James are fine examples of rural entrepreneurs whose businesses are thriving as a result of their hard work, innovation and knowledge of the industry.
"We are pleased to be able to give them the backing to achieve success in what is a challenging business.
"Our tenant farm programme is one of the strongest in the country: it offers the brightest skilled young farmers a foothold in the industry, develops the next generation of agricultural skills, manages a prime Staffordshire asset and makes a positive contribution to the economy.”
The county council’s tenant estate comprises 94 farms, with houses, buildings and 8,600 acres of agricultural land.
Some of the units are deliberately sized to encourage newcomers to the industry and would-be tenants must show a focus on commercial food production in their application to convince the council of their profitability.
Of the 19 units let to new starters since 2008, all have been aged 20 and 30.
In addition to providing opportunities for people to set up an agricultural business, the county farms estate has a positive impact of other local businesses, such as contractors working on the farms.
It also provides environmental benefits, including preservation of wildlife habitats and landscape.
George Dunn, chief executive of the Tenant Farmers Association (TFA) said: “The Tenant Farmers Association welcomes the more positive stance to County farms being taken by Staffordshire County Council in comparison to some other local authorities which are neglecting their estates or selling them off.
Where they are run well, County farms estates continue to provide opportunities for new entrants to farming as well as resources to deliver front-line Council services”.