Should all farmers retire at 60?

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Yes says James Peck.

This year’s Oxford Farming Conference will debate the motion “This House believes that all farmers should retire at 60”. James Peck explains why he is in favour of the motion.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the origin of the word retire is from the French retirer – to draw back. Therefore, I would rather propose the motion that farmers should “draw back” at 60 and so I’ve taken the liberty of putting inverted commas round “retire”.

The target of our efforts should probably not be the age when farmers retire (since people are living longer anyway and the retirement age is rumoured to rise), but how they can be encouraged to welcome the younger generation into the industry and work together with them moving forward.

Ideally we need to make sure that family farming businesses continue to grow by retaining the knowledge and skills from the past, while nurturing new and enthusiastic talent which can look towards the future and maximise long term growth and income.

If this transition cannot be successfully achieved, the risk is of the farm becoming stagnant or failing. This can be down to the loss of historical skills and knowledge from the older generation and/or the lack of young people willing to wait their turn to join the industry when there are so many opportunities now available both here in the UK and abroad.

We all know of stories of young farmers in their 30s leaving the family farm because the grandfather in his 80s still holds the purse strings.

My father is now only one year away from the golden age of 60, and yet every time I ask him if he is ready to stand down his answer is “no”.

This would mean that the estate would be handed over to me only on the event of my father’s death, which hopefully is a good few years away.

Estimating that this could be 30 years in the future, this would mean I would only take over control after I am 63. So I would have to hand it over to the next generation, missing me out completely or worse keep it until they are 60 plus.

Young farmers should be regarded as an asset for any prudent older farmer to capitalise on.

The prudent “retired” farmer might, for example, consider contracting out but staying involved and then look to using his wisdom and experience not only at home, but for the good of others, by getting more involved in organisations such as NFU or CLA.

In our family we have addressed the handover in a different way to achieve maximum benefit for all. Father has retained security and control of the farm and its assets, while making more time available for advising industry related groups.

In 2003, I started my own business using the farm site as a base. I deal with the day-to-day farming of the land on a contract basis, and also provide this service for other local landowners.

I have also diversified into grain haulage and grain storage. The background support from my father, both by him allowing me to use the strength of the estate’s assets, and by providing advice and guidance when I request it, has helped me to achieve my goals.

It is probably fair to say that individuals who won’t stand aside for the next generation will never be convinced to do so regardless of the retirement age.

But what are the reasons? Is this caused by competitive instinct and the fear that the next generation will be more successful? Or the fear that instead of retiring to enjoy their later years they will simply go to seed?

James Peck is a former Farmers Weekly Young Farmer of the Year and runs his own farming company PX Farms which is based at Dry Drayton in Cambridgeshire.

Source: Farmers Weekly Interactive

Succession – In at the deep end

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For James Peck, Firestone Young Farmer of the Year in 2006, the chance to run the show came early. After graduating from Writtle at 23, James headed back to the family’s arable farm in Cambridgeshire with a clear sense that he wanted to farm, but never imagining he would be running his own business by his mid-twenties.

James Peck

It was his father Adrian’s decision to devote himself to his diversification into property development that provided the trigger. James remembers the moment well. “I was 26 and my father brought me into the office and said he wanted to put the farm out on contract. I was shocked, really shocked. Either I took the plunge or had to face the idea of someone else managing the farm.” James took the plunge, along with plenty of professional advice, and set up P.X. Farms, a limited company that he owns in full.

James has never looked back and the business now farms some 5,000 acres through a variety of agreement types. By forging innovative partnerships with other operators, it has recently expanded into grain storage and haulage.

“I’m all for having a business plan, but you never know what opportunities the next year will bring and you have to run with them. I honestly never envisaged I’d be running a grain store alongside the contract farming.”

Mulling over why things have worked out so well, James is the first to admit that his father has been a key factor. “Father was my agricultural bible. I couldn’t have done it without him. At the same time, it was important that he was free to get on with his own thing and didn’t have to carry the risks of my business.”

Keeping cool’s key…

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…to 26,000t grain store’s success.

PX Farms’ gleaming new grain store faced a baptism of fire in harvest 2008, having to cope with drying as much as 95% of the incoming crop. It passed with flying colours, says James Peck of PX Farms.

James Peck

“The combined capacity of the drier and wet bin means we can hold over 250t in the drying queue at any one time, or tip on the concrete pad and bucket the grain in when there’s space,” says Mr Peck. “It never caused any bottleneck in tipping or delay in harvesting – and hopefully we won’t get another year like that.”

Leased to merchant Wellgrain, the store contains not only the substantial output of the host farm’s crops but also that of 30 local growers. It has an intake rate of more than 150t/hr using on-floor tipping and a 120t/hr central overhead conveyor.

This has a “travellator” that moves forward in 1m steps to form a neat 60m-long pile, 14.5m deep at its centre and almost 7m at the edges. The store

has clearly been built for capacity and efficiency.

But of equal importance in the specification is the monitoring and cooling systems designed to combat potential insect pest infestation.

Gary Milner of Robydome checks the computerised control and monitoring set-up for the ventilation/cooling and drying systems.

With such a huge amount of grain in one heap – and the responsibility that comes with managing the output of the 30 local farms, let alone PX Farm’s own in-hand and contract farming operations – outstanding store management is imperative to maintain quality and operating throughput.

The process begins with accurate monitoring of incoming grain moisture, then drying as necessary to 15% moisture content. Each load is rigorously sampled and recorded on the intake office computer.

“While moisture content is important, we also recognise how crucial it is to get the grain cool enough to store in good condition and free from insect pests,” says Mr Peck. “That means getting the temperature down from a typical 32ºC at intake to the target store temperature of 6ºC as quickly as possible.”

The ventilation system is designed to cool the grain rapidly to less than 10C, at which point the insects will not breed; at single figures they will die.

As the 30m wide store is loaded, six rows of ventilation ducts are laid and ratchet-strapped to fixings on the floor. They start at 900mm diameter, then step down to 750mm, 600mm and finally 450mm to give the even air flow calculated by Silsoe-based independent grain storage engineer, David Bartlett.

Mr Peck emphasises the need to get the air flow right: “There is a temptation in most farm grain stores to over-engineer and over-specify,” he says. “But that risks over-drying the grain; when a 1% loss on a store this size equates to over £20,000, it pays to get the sums done and get the right air flow.”

The ventilation system operates in three zones, each with a pair of high-capacity, two-stage fans and ducting.

In the central zone, seven Robydome probes, fixed to the ducting tie-downs and incorporating three monitoring points each, check grain temperature throughout the depth of the pile and feed the results to a central computer.

Two zones down either side have 13 single-point probes each. These are suspended from the roof so they can be pushed into the grain as the store is filled but, more importantly, can be removed and safely coiled back up to the roof as the store is unloaded.

“We wanted to avoid mobile probes that involve walking across the grain or that could be left in the grain and possibly lost or damaged as the store is emptied,” explains Gary Milner of Robydome.

The large scale of the PX Farms store called for a custom design of monitoring probes but the principle can be scaled down to any on-farm store, from individual bins to small on-floor storage.

“The computerised controller for differential cooling is equally applicable to any storage situation, bringing about the same benefits in energy and automation efficiency and assuring the quality of the grain,” Mr Milner adds. “It can be incorporated into any existing system or new store build.”

Once grain starts pouring into the store, the cooling fans are run intensively to equalise the heap to a common temperature. Then a sophisticated differential cooling programme in the control system kicks in to bring the temperature down to the required levels.

The Robydome monitoring and control programme continuously tracks grain temperatures throughout the store and compares it with the outside air temperature and humidity. The fans are set to come on when ambient temperature is 2C below that of the stored grain and relative humidity is below 65; any rise above these parameters automatically switches the fans off.

Having sufficient ventilation capacity to rapidly cool grain via floor ducting for effective quality and insect pest control was given a high priority in the store’s specification.

Automatic control ensures air carrying excess moisture is not pushed through the grain – otherwise it will be wetted rather than dried and a build-up of caked fusty grain alongside the ventilation ducts will interfere with air flow and cooling performance.

“The parameters are selected to give the most efficient possible cooling whilst ensuring the optimum humidity is maintained for good storage,” says Mr Peck. “The record of fans switching on and off throughout the day and night clearly shows it would be impossible to achieve this level of accuracy and efficiency with manual operation.”

Given the volume of air being pumped into the store, it is important to think about extraction capacity. After all, as Mr Peck points out, moist air condensing on a cool roof will drip moisture back onto the grain and create a crust of damp material highly conducive to insect activity.

“You need to take out an equivalent volume of air that’s gone through the grain as quickly as it’s blown into the pile,” he emphasises. “The eight large extractor fans in the roof automatically start up with the ventilation fans – but we can also switch them on manually to keep the working environment clean and virtually dust free when filling the store and out-loading lorries.”

With bespoke administration software recording grain movements and linked to Wellgrain’s own system, growers renting space on a stored volume basis know precisely how much grain they have to sell – and do not have the responsibility of managing stored crop at a busy time of year.

“From experience, most grain storage problems occur in October and November, once the grain is believed to be safely in the store but when most farmers are too busy with field work to regularly monitor and manage the store,” Mr Peck points out. “For growers using our facility through Wellgrain, all risks and concerns are removed; they can concentrate on the new crop in the ground.”

Source: Farmers Weekly Interactive

2007 Farmers Weekly Awards…

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…why winning helped their businesses?

Young Farmer of the Year 2006 – James Peck, Scotland Farm, Cambridge says,

“It has given me confidence to focus harder on my business plan and broadened my interest to other areas such as focused environmental management to produce genuine environmental gains. The win was a great experience but not an end in itself it was a credit to the whole team who are determined to ensure that the business develops offering customers the best service.”

Agricultural merchant follows Tesco with loyalty card scheme

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East Anglian agricultural merchant Cropco has followed Tesco by copying the supermarket giant’s successful loyalty card scheme.

Any farmer buying Seed Plus seed from the merchant this season will qualify for points that can later be redeemed against a range of options, including agrochemicals or fertiliser supplied by the firm, services such as waste recycling, or even gifts, according to John Poulton, Cropco’s managing director.

“We want to give something back to growers, there will be a substantial loyalty reward,” he said.

The scheme will initially only run for seed purchases, but Cropco hopes to extend it to other parts of his business, including agchems in the future.

Full details of what rewards will be available and how much seed would need to be purchased to qualify for them have not been released as yet.

The loyalty card is part of the firm’s Seed Plus offering, which aims to provide high quality seed sourced from Daltons of Peterborough on a guaranteed delivery date.

“If we fail to meet an agreed delivery date we will cut the price of the seed by 50%,” Mr Poulton said.

Farmers Weekly Young Farmer of the Year James Peck welcomed Mr Poulton’s pledge. “It’s no good if the seed isn’t on farm in time,” he said. “We drill in blocks and don’t want to be going back for 40 acres.”

The firm will also offer variety advice to its customers through independent variety consultant Richard Fenwick.

“Seed Plus will help provide the information to make sure growers choose the correct variety for their farm,” he said.

Source: Farmers Weekly International

Farming’s entrepreneurs take control

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Entrepreneurs are people with guts, ambition and commitment, according to key speakers from The Future’s In Your Hands event.

Matthew Naylor, who grows potatoes and flowers for major retailers in south Lincolnshire, told delegates: “The difference between a businessman and an entrepreneur is all about control. Business people analyse the status quo and try and profit from it. Entrepreneurs take control of the situation and try and make things happen on their own terms.”

“I have made loads of mistakes over the years, all with my own money. Some people will try something and fail. It’s about dusting yourself down, deciding where you went wrong and trying again.”

Ian Kenny, head of agricultural policy at NatWest added: “Cash, capital and character are what the banks are looking for with start-ups but character is key. Have you got the flair, the fire and passion to make it work?”

“There is no rule book. If you have a hunch simply go and do it. It’s the only way you will learn,” said Will Chase, founder of Tyrrells Crisps.

“My advice is: be enthusiastic and passionate, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Do your research, have a ten-year plan, and work hard.” – James Peck, managing director, P.X. Farms, and 2006 FW Young Farmer of the Year.

Source: Farmers Weekly Interactive

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