Helping Boxford Farms maximise their soft fruit production
Published: 19th November 2020
How a large Suffolk farm expanded their soft fruit production by purchasing a neighbouring farm, funded by AMC.
Award-winning Boxford (Suffolk) Farms has been a family-owned farm since 1938 and in that time has expanded and diversified to great success. Started by Bill and Devora Peake, it’s now owned and run by their five children and one grandchild. As well as growing apples, strawberries, raspberries, cherries and blueberries on the 1000-acre farm, the family also run a 4-star hotel, spa, holiday lodges and championship golf courses. The company, known collectively as the Boxford Group, employs 600 people across Suffolk and Essex.
A 60-year business relationship
In the 1950s Devora Peake approached her local bank manager for a loan for an irrigation system for the farm, then a 120-acre apple farm. When she was turned down on the basis that she was a woman, she vowed to never rely on one bank again. The family’s relationship with AMC began a few years later and has gone from strength to strength ever since.
In 2019 AMC were delighted to hear from one of the Boxford Farms siblings, Susanna Rendall, about a new proposal the family had in mind. The neighbouring farmer was due to retire and the family were keen to purchase his land and equipment in order to greatly increase their glasshouse soft fruit production.
“We have worked with this entrepreneurial family for over 60 years, and helped fund many innovative projects. So it was a pleasure to hear about this new opportunity and see how we could help. I work closely with Philip Hutley, accredited AMC Agent at Strutt and Parker to support the family and their business portfolio,” says Mike Lord, Regional Agricultural Manager, AMC.
A serious player in early-to late-season soft fruit production
Thanks to support from AMC, Boxford Farms were able to complete the purchase of the neighbouring farm. The expansion was relatively low risk as Boxford Farms already had the infrastructure, people, processes and end customers in place. With both farms combined, they now have 16 acres of glass and 155 acres of tunnels and are big players in UK glasshouse production. Because the farm can now produce consistent quantities of soft fruit for an extended season from March to November, this helps their business relationship with the major supermarkets who can better plan their fruit stocks and rely less on imports.
“AMC don’t put pressure on us to see immediate results from their investments because they understand that a more long-term approach is needed when it comes to farming and food production,” says Susanna Rendall, CEO.
Custodians of the land
Susanna and her siblings see themselves as custodians of the land and their aim is to leave it in a better state than they found it for the next generation.
Accordingly, Boxford Farms has great sustainability credentials. It makes use of six biomass boilers which heat the glasshouses using woodchip from the farm, and these were purchased with assistance from AMC in 2014. The family have also invested over £5 million in renewable energy sources across the various Boxford Group businesses and their Stoke by Nayland Hotel, Golf & Spa is carbon neutral and self-sufficient in heat and power. The green energy awards that they have won include the international 2019 Best Biogas Plant Award at the AD & Biogas Awards.
As the Boxford Group has a varied portfolio of businesses including the hotel and golf courses, they – like many in the hospitality sector – have found 2020 challenging. While the farming arm of the business was unaffected, the hotel and spa was closed for several months. In response to these challenges, AMC offered the family a six-month capital repayment holiday on their loans to help them with cash flow.
“AMC offer the personal touch and have always delivered for us. They were very understanding and unwavering despite the COVID crisis and we were able to forge ahead with the purchase. We are fortunate to have a diverse range of businesses under the Boxford Group and AMC were able to see past the temporary challenges brought on by the pandemic. We’ve worked with them since the late 1950s and we plan to continue long into the future. We cannot praise them highly enough,” says Susanna.