With a number of farm diversifications including a festival under his belt, Patrick Deeley is a man with a plan. Olivia Midgley went to meet him.
A beer and music festival may not be classed as a regular farmdiversification in many people’s minds, but it was the logical next step for Patrick Deeley.
Farming beside the M25 and having already incorporated a microbrewery into his enterprise at Flower Farm, Godstone, Surrey, the poultry farmer saw an opportunity to boost his offering to the community and, importantly, give the business a new revenue stream.
Patrick says: “Diversifying my income has always been a key part of my business model. I couldn’t make a living from the farm alone.
“I needed something to safeguard the future of the farm.”
In 2017 he teamed up with local microbrewery The Godstone Brewers, who moved into one of the farm’s 15 industrial units.
Once a week, Patrick, along with brewery owners Steve Taylor and Anne Jackson, would transform Flower Farm’s tea room into a micropub, selling craft beer brewed just metres away and using ingredients sourced as locally as possible.
The venture was a hit with locals, who continue to flock there each Friday evening.
Patrick says: “I thought ‘we know beer and we’ve got the land – so why not hold our own festival?’”
While Patrick has dabbled in hosting various smaller events for the public over the years, organising a three-day festival took him completely out of his comfort zone.
“I did a lot of research online to look into temporary licences and spoke to my local publican,” he says.
“I made sure I had a plan in place when I went to the council.
“Some people tend to fear working with councils, but my experience was positive and the officials were helpful.”
Patrick also had to put a traffic management plan in place and organise six free buses which take people to and from the festival site.
From the first event in 2017 Godstoneberry has continued to grow and this year will expect 16,000 revellers across the weekend in July (12-14).
“We are lucky in terms of where we are geographically, and that is a major factor in getting something like this to work,” says Patrick.
“Like Glastonbury, this is very much a festival on a farm.
The 61-hectare (150-acre) site sits close to the Kent border and is only 20 miles outside of London.
Two nearby train stations offer services direct to the capital.
Flower Farm’s location has also been crucial in the establishment of its thriving farm shop, butchers and deli.
Produce is sourced locally, with a focus on quality, and because the shop is situated in a fairly affluent area within close reach of London, prices retail at the higher end.
Patrick buys in about 300 lambs after weaning which he finishes on grass. They are usually Suffolk/Romney crosses.
“We take them to a small abattoir as and when we need them, usually going through about eight a week. However just before Easter we had 40 for the shop. It depends on the time of year,” says Patrick, who also runs a 68-strong beef suckler herd.
Hereford dams are crossed with an Aberdeen Angus bull owned by Patrick’s neighbour John Berriman, who as well as growing cereals, finishes about 1,000 animals a year. He had bought in 250 head from two dairy units which had closed down.
Patrick’s animals are wintered outside on John’s farm before returning to Flower Farm in late March. They calve in spring, in a field which runs alongside the North Downs.
Similarly to Glastonbury, after the festival in summer, the site is cleared and the stages and stalls are replaced with the cattle.
“We scour the fields before we put the cows on, but people are very respectful,” Patrick says.
“They know this is a working farm and they are good at using the rubbish bins and not leaving things on the grass which might injure the cattle when they return for grazing.”
Animals are fed a forage based diet with 50 per cent cereals grown on Jim’s farm, and are killed when they reach about 400kg.
“Anything more than 400kg and the caracases become a lot harder to handle,” says Patrick.
“This system produces beef with a good flavour and it’s what our customers want.”
Cows are taken to a small family abattoir nearby, with, on average, one beast being sold through the shop each week. The shop usually needs three in total, meaning Patrick has to buy in extra from London’s Smithfield Market.
On the pig side, Gloucestershire Old Spot crosses are bought in and finished for about two months before being sent to an abattoir in Brighton.
“We had a real problem with finding somewhere to send the pigs, so they have to go further than we would like,” he adds.
However, food miles on the poultry side are minimal.
Broilers are bought in as day-old chicks from a small independent poultry breeder, Brian Piggott in Bedfordshire.
“We slaughter 150 a week through a small scale slaughterhouse and we have slaughtering facilities on the farm.
“All the chicken goes through our shop.
“With demand being so high, we also buy in about the same again from Diaper Poultry in Stowmarket, Suffolk.”
Chickens are grown for six to seven weeks to obtain the highest breast meat yield. They are housed in three groups of between 300 and 400.
“The system works both for us and the abattoir,” adds Patrick.
All the feed is bought in from Humphrey Feeds in Winchester.
“The feed price does affect us, but it is not like we are a big commercial producer, so we don’t feel it as much as some do,” he explains. “We have a good margin on each bird which cushions us.”
Margin on the free range eggs is also good. About 25 per cent are sold through the shop at £2.49 per dozen.
The 3,000 Lohmann Browns lay about 2,700 eggs daily. The sheds have an automatic collection
system which collects twice a day. Eggs are graded once a day.
While the hens are free range, Patrick estimates only 20 per cent venture outside at any one time and 20 per cent never choose to go out.
“They lay brilliantly on target,” says Patrick. “I don’t think you can get a better breed for laying.”
Patrick works in partnership with neighbouring farmer John who also keeps another 1,500 hens.
“With 3,000 hens we are working on a commercial scale, but we are a joint partnership,” Patrick adds.
“He also has an egg round and sells locally.”
The pair also supply retail outlets, cafes and shops in the local area and also in London.
“A lot of the eggs were finding their way to the team working on London’s new railway, Crossrail, at Battersea Power Station,” Patrick adds.
“Again, the system works for us. We receive a cheque once a month, so it is brilliant for cashflow.”
Patrick also grows about 20,000 turkeys a year on contract and supplies to Lidl, Sainsbury’s and Marks and Spencer via Traditional Norfolk Poultry.
Day-old chicks are supplied from two hatcheries in Leicestershire and Essex and stay for about six weeks before going to their respective farms for finishing to 21 weeks.
The farm also finishes about 750 of its own turkeys for the shop, although Patrick would like to increase this to 1,000 this year.
“The next thing to look at is selling online,” he adds.
“We have dabbled in online retail, but it’s something we need to give some more thought to.
“Selling the turkeys on the farm at Christmas is something people enjoy because we make a real experience of it.
“We pack them up nicely in a festive box with games for the kids, party hats and so on.
“It’s a nice experience for them to come with their families and pick up the Christmas turkey.”
Providing an experience both for his customers and festival revellers is always at the forefront of Patrick’s mind.
“We want Flower Farm to be the destination of choice,” he says. “When customers buy here, they know where their food has come from and how it is reared, and they value that.
“We want to keep them coming back and for them to tell their friends, so we put a big emphasis on providing a positive experience.
“That is the main reason we set up the tearooms in 2012. It doesn’t make a vast profit, but people expect it. When they go out for the day and come somewhere like this, they expect to get a coffee and something to eat.”
Patrick admits many of the diversifications have been based on trial and error.
“We’ve tried a lot of things over the years, some have worked and some haven’t, but you learn from your experiences and that is what drives you forward,” adds Patrick.
“As farmers, you start selling a product and then suddenly you are a retailer and there is a whole new set of skills you need to learn.
“I struggled with the farm shop for about 10 years. I had borrowed a lot of money at the start and got into financial difficulty.”
Now, with the business on a solid financial footing and with an award for best Surrey farm shop on the wall, Patrick feels the business is in a solid position for the future.
“Everything I do has to be paid for by something else. I won’t borrow any more money,” he adds.
And what would Patrick’s advice be to others thinking of diversifying?
“Think carefully about what suits the farm, the existing assets and key of all, the location,” he says.
“Also, get advice from someone who has practical experience.
“Sit down and make a plan. What is your goal? Is it to bring people into the business? Is it to make money?
“If it is just that you ‘fancy’ it then that is not a good enough reason.
“However, above all else it has to be something you enjoy.”