Constant diversification keeps business growing
Published: 06 August 2019
From farming potatoes to poultry and arable, with a focus on sustainability and education, Frogmary Green Farm has undergone a significant transformation in the past 30 years, with AMC financing helping along the way.
Frogmary Green Farm in Somerset is virtually unrecognisable from the greenfield site owners Nick and Claire Bragg took over in 1990.
Today, the site is an award-winning poultry and arable farm, complete with cooking school, conference centre, classrooms and office lets. It employs 14 full-time members of staff, including a business development manager, and eight part-time team members.
“We’re not ones to sit still,” says Nick, “we’re always trying to diversify and stay modern and make the best of any opportunities that come our way.”
When Nick and Claire first took over Frogmary Green, it was a greenfield site with a number of buildings used for storing straw. But, after a series of arson attacks it became clear this was not a sustainable business and they turned their focus to potatoes – using their equipment to plant, harvest and market potatoes for local growers.
However, due to the ups and downs of the potato market Nick and Claire knew they needed to diversify, so when the opportunity came to takeover Nick’s uncle’s poultry business in 2009 they jumped at the chance and grew it from 20,000 birds a crop to just under one million a year today.
Then in 2013 they faced yet more changes when they made the hard decision to end the potato business due to a demise in the fresh potato market. But another opportunity presented itself – a local company wanted to lease six acres of land to house an anaerobic digester.
“It was a scary time for us,” says Nick. “We had to sell off our potato equipment in a very depressed market and also scale up so we could meet the cropping needs for the anaerobic digester. We took responsibility for producing all the feedstocks, feeding the digester each day and removing all the digest from the plant too. It was a huge learning curve but it also meant we had a real structure for the business and could provide work for the team we had been employing on the back of the potato business, so there was no need to make anyone redundant.”
The empty buildings which were once used to store potatoes have also been put to good use over the years, housing the cookery school and various meeting rooms.
For Nick and Claire, a big part of their diversification plans has been about embracing both the environment and education, with sustainability always at the forefront of their developments.
The cereals, grass and maize grown on the farm feeds an on-site anaerobic digester plant which produces biogas to power Frogmary Green, with any excess being sold back to the National Grid.
The three chicken houses are the first in the UK to be heated by woodchip boilers, which also heat the staff accommodation, meeting rooms and cookery school. The whole farm currently gets 97% of its energy from renewable sources.
Another UK-first for the farm was the innovative viewing gallery in the chicken house, which allows visitors to see for themselves, in a safe manner, how the chickens are reared and cared for. This, coupled with the on-site classrooms, makes the farm perfect for educational visits and to-date more than 19,500 visitors have been welcomed through the gates.
The on-site cookery school also brings an educational element to the farm, with guest chefs teaching everything from pasta-making to Thai cookery and cake baking, all using locally-sourced products where possible.
Lessons for success
One of the ways Nick has ensured Frogmary Green stays ahead of the game is by continually assessing all business elements and not being frightened to admit when something isn’t working.
“We produced, washed and packed potatoes for restaurants and pubs for about four years and then realised there wasn't enough income return, so we stopped,” says Nick. “We're brave enough to realise that if something isn't working, we need to change. We're always benchmarking ourselves so can see very quickly if one section of our business isn't performing, and straightaway we’re asking why and what can we do about it.”
Looking to the future
Nick and Claire are currently developing a 10-year plan for the business, working closely with their AMC Regional Agricultural Manager Caroline Moore. Plans for an on-site café are already afoot, a shepherd’s hut is being renovated ready to be used as a holiday let and there’s also an empty building ready and waiting for a new venture.
“We’ve always had a good relationship with AMC, they understand our business and our thought process,” says Nick. “We have regular catch ups with Caroline, so whenever we’re planning any changes - which is often - they’re fully aware of our thinking and able to support us as needed.”
And away from the business, Nick is looking to give something back to the farming community by cycling 3,000 miles through Canada to raise funds for the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (RABI), a charity supporting farming families.
“Agriculture can be a difficult business to be in and lots of people are facing mental health and wellbeing challenges,” says Nick. “While we were building up the business I was under a lot of pressure and hardly had any interests outside the farm, but now I have a fantastic team around me and am able to take the time to give something back to the wider community.”
Frogmary Green has certainly undergone a huge transformation in the past 30 years, and AMC has been with them every step of the way, from funding building improvements and expansions to lending working capital during times of business change.
“We’re constantly talking to our clients and supporting them with changes,” says Caroline. “We know businesses evolve and we can be flexible and adapt as needed, for example, we can change the structure of our loans as businesses adapt to market forces.”
“What Nick and Claire have achieved at Frogmary really stands out. Yes, they are running a successful commercial business, and are machines when it comes to moving with the times and marketing themselves, but they’re also very community driven and do a lot for the environment and education.”