If you’re thinking about saying sod it!

‘Sod it with Sovereign’ I always thought a catchy marketing slogan. Sod is the American word for what we call turf in England. As turf growers we fear water shortages and droughts as it impacts quite severely on our markets and makes production more problematical. Today a warning of potential hosepipe bans in the South of England, part of our marketplace, was issued by Southern Water. Reservoirs are low after this autumn has delivered much lower than average rainfall.

This is one reason we as a business must seek out alternative revenue streams – to reduce our reliance on turf sales. We have a few ideas that centralize around a certain part of the farm which in our opinion lend itself to what is becoming termed as agri-tourism. However today we find out that this may not be possible, potentially denying us the opportunity to develop that particular strand – sod it!

Progress is never straight line and we have to keep trying to find work arounds.

We have also heard back today from one tender out for next year’s vegetable programme. Price rises are much sought after to make this a more attractive proposition but as expected would be fiercely contested. We made zero pounds from this contract over the last year and remains a high probability that we will not continue to service this moving forward.

The key I think to business is never become so reliant on one customer that you can’t say no. We have options and can walk away all be it not our first choice but as of today we haven’t received our registered charity number and therefore do need to make some money if we are to survive. On a further conversation with a different customer we appear to be operating in a slightly more favourable environment. Perhaps there is hope in developing a new strand moving forward with them?

A recent Facebook conversation around the price of butter revealed interesting views from our public. We farmers should be happy to run our businesses as a way of life and shouldn’t expect to make a profit as it’s deemed greedy. An interesting concept I thought. I wonder if that view would remain if they went hungry?

Anyway – if you are involved with landscaping, sod it with Sovereign, it’s flipping good turf at the moment. 😊

FIRST FROST – FIRST LOSS

Our first frost of the year this morning, with temperatures reaching 1 C. Whilst the countryside looks absolutely amazing, our cauliflowers and winter greens are in the front line to take some damage. Shoppers expectations of quality is based largely around product looking perfect. Frost and cold temperatures have the tendency to scar or damage our product, rendering it unsaleable.

Moving into the winter, our crops look well, too well perhaps! Last year we lost the vast majority of the crop leaving us nursing large losses and bringing these two enterprises under the microscope. If we don’t make some money out of these this winter, we have decided that it will be our last season and will move onto something fundamentally less risky.

IRRIGATION – A necessary headache

We are fortunate to farm on relatively light sandy soils that provide a choice of crops we can grow. Many other farmers who farm on heavy clay soils are highly restricted. This choice, can however, only be exercised if you are able to access a secure water source that can be applied through irrigation, or aggravation, as we affectionately call it, enabling you to water crops in the dry summers.

Water is becoming an ever more scarce and emotive resource as demand increases. Without water our business could not exist. During a dry summer, having a secure water resource is hugely important. We farm in what is described as being an over licensed and over abstracted region i.e. there isn’t enough water to go around.

Being part of the EU has meant we have become increasingly environmentally concerned. Legislation has driven great change around water.  I believe farming is seen by politicians as the least important user of water in the UK. The environment assumes the number one most important spot, followed closely by domestic users, then industry with farming in distant fourth. This ranking, is I think, widely accepted in the UK. In addition to this, farming can be severely restricted during the key summer months by the licensing authorities through what is known as Section 57 which is likely to restrict our usage by 50%, just when we need it the most! Why? – agriculture uses a relatively small amount of water overall but uses it at what can be, a very sensitive time of year. Restricted water availability in dry summers has a very negative impact on food production and commercial viability.

When challenged over its view on food security for the UK, the government has maintained that this isn’t a major concern of theirs, as apparently we can import food in from anywhere in the world. This I believe is not a great view but nether the less one maintained for several years – until perhaps now.

The last winter saw food shortages in certain salad lines coming out of Spain, leading to rationing by some supermarkets and empty shelves. With Brexit looming, is the UK government starting to change its view? Time will tell.

Today though, I have set up a meeting with our local Rural Payment Agency to discuss how we might access grant funding that is available to farming, to develop and secure, a better, more efficient water supply moving forward. If we can improve our position for 2018 and beyond then we may avert some pain and save some costs of investment. It costs nothing to talk and time will tell!

Farming!

Farming to some people is seen as a wonderful way of life, a way of getting back to basics. For me, it has been my chosen profession for 25 years now. A second generation farmer, I was introduced to farming at the age of 13. Then, it relied largely on hand labour, as most of what we produced was vegetables and there weren’t machines to do the jobs or they were too expensive. Since then our family farming business has navigated itself through great change. An era of great income generation and expansion as supermarkets grew in importance, followed by a period of circumspection, as they looked to consolidate and then followed by a desire to change as we sought to diversify.

Our journey is probably like that of many farmers who have not only sought to survive but thrive in these modern day times. It is however unique to us, as it’s our adventure, rooted in who we are, our self belief of what we can do: facilitated by our location and geographical climate and our personal desires to embrace change and look to carve out a future of fun and excitement that will bring hope for a more fulfilling life, both for ourselves and perhaps our children!

The catalyst for starting this blog was a set of disappointing financial results after a long hard year, bringing about the need for fundamental change to our business – again! It was to journal the process of change and to share with others our thinking, initiatives, success and failures. This may at least show what farming means to ourselves, be interesting to some and perhaps even provide some encouragement to others.

Farmers I believe have sado-masochistic tendencies, we do it because we love doing what we do, but the last time I checked at least, we don’t have a  registered charity number and therefore have to make money from what we do!