Competition crowns Stratton Streles Estates as Norfolk's best farm business
PUBLISHED: 08:00 27 June 2018 | UPDATED: 10:08 28 June 2018
A commitment to finding diverse new income streams and "sweating the assets" of land, property and labour has led a Norfolk farm to being named the best in the county.
Stratton Streles Estates, based at Colby Hall Farm near Aylsham, has been crowned the champion in this year’s Norfolk County Farm Business competition, run by the Aylsham Agricultural Show Association.
The estate owns 530ha and works on five other contract farms, taking the farmed area up to 1720ha, growing wheat, barley, oilseed rape, dwarf beans, vining peas and potatoes, which are the core of the operation, with 165ha grown for packing and processing customers including McCain and Bird’s Eye.
But in an industry full of future financial uncertainties, the arable business is underpinned by a commitment to diversification.
The estate has an eight-horse livery, 100kW of solar panels, a fishing lake, 16 commercial and residential properties, the King’s Beck Barn holiday let and 14,500 square feet of storage and workshops.
Conservation is another income stream, with a Higher Level Stewardship scheme attracting funding of £35,000 for wildlife-friendly bird mixes and margins on 28ha of land.
The farm also grows maize and wholecrop rye for an anaerobic digestion energy plant in Scottow, and an opportunistic acquisition of a 20-acre orchard in 2015 means it is also now growing cider apples for Suffolk-based manufacturer Aspall.
Managing director Jeff van Poortvliet said: “You have to have all your bases covered, so that when commodity prices are low you have got other streams of regular, consistent income. We have got shareholders, and they like to have dividends. So we have got to make it work.
“It all supports the farming. It is not by any stretch of the imagination something that will be prioritised above the arable business. Within that diversification is the contract farms, and they are bringing in a sizeable proportion of business in their own right. The arable and potato side is still the core of the business.
“I think diversification is going to be even more important in future. Because whatever happens we know the single farm payment is going, so we need to have other income streams coming in to support the business. I don’t think it will be a level playing so we are going to have to adapt our business accordingly.
“We have been able to sweat our assets. We have got the land. We have got good infrastructure and irrigation and so therefore we are quite well-placed to be able to tackle the next opportunity.”
The ethos of maximising resources also extends to the estate’s staff.
“Two guys will come off the arable side of the business and go onto the lorries during the sugar beet campaign,” said Mr van Poortvliet. “If we didn’t do that we would be looking at having seasonal staff. So we are retaining good quality full-time staff by being able to give them work throughout the year.”
Mr van Poortvliet said he was initially “quite cynical” about entering the competition. “But I think what encouraged me to continue with it is the fact that it makes you question yourself, and question what you are doing,” he said. “And also it gives you the opportunity to learn from dynamic and interesting farming setups from all over the country.
“I think it is important because we can sometimes be very blinkered in how we do things.”
• A celebratory farm walk will take place at Hall Farm, Colby on at 5.30pm on Thursday 12 July. For more details, or to advise numbers attending, contact Robert Mitchell on firstname.lastname@example.org.
FULL COMPETITION RESULTS
Champion: Stratton Streless Estates
Reserve: Albanwise Farming ltd
J F Temple and Son Ltd
First: Holkham Farming Company
Second: Charles Wharton Ltd
First: J H Withers and Son
Second: Bentley Farming Ltd
Stuart Chapman Bowl
Simon Moore Farming Ltd
Challenge Cup under 160ha
Norman Farming Partnership