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Sustainable diversification strengthens family farm

Published: 18 November 2019

Mark Green and family have taken Ditton Farm from strength to strength over the years, while ensuring it’s as sustainable as possible.

Ditton Farm in Hereford has undergone huge changes since it was first bought by Frank and Joan Green in 1977. What was once 156 acres of rented land, used primarily for farming soft fruits, is now in excess of 3,000 acres of part-owned, part-rented and part-farm business tenancies – which are used for growing potatoes, wheat and rape seed, breeding broiler chickens and housing an anaerobic digestor.

But despite its impressive growth, Ditton Farm remains a family-run business, with Frank and Joan still involved in the day-to-day running of the farm, alongside their son Mark.

“I’ve really benefited from all the hard work my parents put in before me,” says Mark, “and they also set the precedent for being innovative and trying new things – they had one of the very first ‘pick your owns’ before they became hugely popular and were always looking for ways to grow and adapt the business.”

Farming for the future

Today, Mark is equally passionate about growing the farm and making sure it’s there for the next generation, which is why there is a huge focus on sustainability at Ditton Farm.

“We farm intensively, but I believe you can farm intensively, but sustainably,” says Mark. “We try to make sure that every part of the business helps another and that nothing goes to waste. There are solar panels on the chicken sheds which help power various buildings on the farm, the AD is fed with crops which are grown on the farm and muck from the chicken sheds, and then the energy generated is also used to power the farm or it goes back to the grid.”

Person digging up potatos

Making crisps – the sustainable way

Mark’s passion for sustainability is obvious in his latest business venture, Two Farmers Hand-Cooked Crisps, which he co-founded with his friend and fellow farmer, Sean Mason.

After supplying potatoes to a number of outlets for years, Mark was keen to try his hand at making his own crisps. He wanted to make them as sustainably as possible, which is why as well as using locally-sourced ingredients and as much renewable energy as possible in the production process, the crisps are also packaged in the world’s first biodegradable crisp packet.

“Both Sean and I are born and bred in Herefordshire, so it was really important to us that the crisps used local ingredients and flavours,” says Mark. “But when we started researching the market it was clear that we needed another USP too. We started looking at how crisps were eaten, and it was always from a packet, so we started looking at the various options for making the packaging more eco-friendly. We eventually found some compostable packaging and decided to see if it could be used for crisp packets, and here we are.

Person presenting crisp packaging

“The bags only take 16 weeks to decompose in an industrial composter, or 26 weeks if composted at home. Even if they were sent to landfill, they’d still disappear in a year.”

And it’s not just the crisp bags that are eco-friendly – Mark and Sean have worked to make sure the entire production process is as sustainable as possible.

“The potatoes are grown, graded and stored here on the farm, which helps keep our carbon footprint to a minimum,” says Mark. “And we’re pretty confident that we use more renewable energy than any other crisp manufacturer.”

Lessons for success

While Two Farmers Hand-Cooked Crisps is going from strength to strength, Mark admits there were some challenges that came with diversifying into food production. “I had to quickly learn about whole new business areas I’d never encountered before, like flavour tasting” he says. “Plus, with any business there are cash flow challenges. We grew quickly and the business was cash-hungry – we had to buy so much produce and equipment, as well as hiring more staff etc.”

Speaking to other farmers who are looking to expand into food production businesses, Mark’s best advice is to do your research and find a point of difference that separates you from competitors.

“There is so much wonderful farming in the UK and as people become more enthusiastic about food, and its provenance, there are great opportunities for farmers to diversify their business,” Mark continues.

Person tending to machinery

Working with AMC

As Ditton Farm has grown over the years, the Green family have worked closely with AMC on various land and property purchases.

“We’ve got a good relationship with AMC,” says Mark, “we’ve worked with them for over a decade and it’s a simple process. They’re knowledgeable about the way we work, and what you see is what you get – there’s no hidden small print. Their way of working suits how we run our family business.

“Having AMC funding and support across the farming business has helped us grow faster and meant we were in the position to release the funds we needed to start Two Farmers.”

Jeremy Jehan of Brightwells and Martin Waite, AMC Regional Agricultural Manager, have worked closely with the Green family for a number of years.

“There’s always something going on with the Green family – they’re constantly looking for the next opportunity, and once they’ve got something up and running, they want to push it further, see how it can be more sustainable or help other parts of the business,” Martin says. “We know they’ve always really thought through any project before they bring it to us and that it will actually work. They’re a very impressive farming family with great business acumen.”

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