Marrying conservation with commercial farming

Adam Henson is best-known for his role as presenter of the BBC's 'Countryfile' and 'Lambing Live'. He is also recognised for furthering the work of his father Joe, who in 1971 set up the country's first farm park near Cheltenham to manage and conserve many of the UK's rare and valuable historic breeds.

The Cotswold Farm Park visitor attraction forms a relatively small part of a larger farm business that includes a 990-acre arable enterprise and a flock of 400 commercial ewes. In addition there are various farm diversifications, including an 11-mile cross-county course and a 40-pitch caravan and camping site.

"Lloyds Bank Agriculture recognised the strength in our business and was able to offer competitive loan rates and a flexible overdraft facility that helps our business to absorb the type of seasonal cashflow that any large-scale arable enterprise will be familiar with."

Managing such a diverse farming business was traditionally a family affair but when Adam Henson's father, Joe, retired from the business in 1997, Adam formed a new business partnership with Duncan Andrews. Duncan was a friend from Adam's days at Seale Hayne Agricultural College and, since 2000, has held a 50% share in the business.

Together, Adam and Duncan run a modern and progressive business that has maintained a positive momentum through initiatives such as expansion, diversification and adding value.

Daily challenges

Like so many other farms, however, the business faces the daily challenges of grain price volatility, bovine tuberculosis, inconsistent weather patterns and increasing legislative restrictions. In particular, the 2001 foot and mouth disease outbreak had a significant impact on the business, with the farm park unable to open to the public.

"We had invested a lot of time and money during the winter months to get the park ready to open to the public the following spring," Adam explained. "Not being able to open hit us financially and exacerbated the effects of that year's falling commodity prices." Adam and Duncan therefore approached their existing bank to source an additional business loan in order to see them through what was expected to be a short-term problem.

"At the time we were using a bank that had little experience of the farming industry," Duncan explained. "As such, they didn't understand the issues we were facing and were initially reluctant to provide the level of financial support that our business needed.

"We approached Lloyds Bank Agriculture to see if they could help and were impressed with their level of industry knowledge. They understood the seasonal nature of our cashflow requirements and our dedicated agricultural manager is always available on the phone or in person to provide specialist advice."

Adam's farm key facts

Enterprises

  • 1,600 acres in the Cotswolds
  • 990 acres arable: milling wheat, malting barley and oilseed rape
  • 400 commercial ewes
  • Cotswold Farm Park rare breeds
  • Joint venture machinery syndicate
  • Caravan park and campsite
  • Cross-country course.

Objectives

  • Diversify business to mitigate price volatilities
  • Preserve and protect traditional and rare breeds
  • Add value to a branded range of products.

Collaboration cuts costs

Since moving their banking facilities across to Lloyds Bank Agriculture, Adam and Duncan have invested £100,000 to set up a new joint venture farming arrangement with a neighbouring farmer. The new enterprise acts as a machinery syndicate which has helped both parties to reduce their arable production costs by more than 10% and has enabled the Cotswold Farm Park business to take on additional arable land under a contract-farming agreement.

"Collaboration is key to maintaining sustainable and profitable food production in the UK," Adam explained. "This type of arrangement allows us to mitigate some of the industry's inherent price volatilities, but was only possible with the help of a supportive and understanding banking partner.

"Lloyds Bank Agriculture recognised the strength in our business and was able to offer competitive loan rates and a flexible overdraft facility that helps our business to absorb the type of seasonal cashflow that any large-scale arable enterprise will be familiar with."

Building for the future

The business is also looking for new ways to add value by investigating the practicalities of developing and marketing its own range of branded flour, beer, oil and smallholder feeds.

Without doubt Adam's heightened public profile will help to create an easily recognisable brand, but diversification projects of this nature can be made to work by any like-minded farming enterprise where a demand for locally sourced food exists.

These latest ideas are all in their infancy, but Adam and Duncan see Lloyds Bank Agriculture as an integral part of this diversification process. "Our business needs to keep pace with a continually changing set of challenges," Duncan explained. "We need to entertain as well as inform visitors to the farm park and have invested in a new farm shop, café and play area to keep the facilities current and up to date.

"Likewise, we are aiming to ignite the public's passion for British farming and locally sourced food that is produced in a sustainable manner. The support, enthusiasm and specialist advice that our Agriculture farm manager and his team provide has given the confidence to proceed with our ideas and to take them beyond the drawing board."

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