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Investment helps future-proof farming business

Published: 17 July 2017

For many farmers, the future of their business is diversification. It requires innovation, spotting additional revenue opportunities and increasing efficiency, says visionary Cambridgeshire farmer Edd Banks, but it needs to be planned now.

“There’s a bigger picture in farming,” says Edd, a founding member of RTK Farming Ltd and a former member of the NFU sugar board. “We have to look at not only generating income today, but to making improvements to the land, the technology and everything else we do to make our farms better businesses in years to come.”

Broader business visions

To support his own long-term vision and improve profitability, Edd created a ten-year plan in 2010 for his 3,000 acres of arable land. At the heart of that strategy was diversification and Edd has since converted a barn into a wedding venue and built a biomass burner to utilise straw waste product from the farm.

AMC has provided Edd with funding for many of his core and diversified business schemes. Mike Lord, AMC Regional Agricultural Manager, processed Edd’s first funding application and reinforces his view of the sector: “A farming business isn’t just about farming anymore. It’s about looking outside of the box, whilst retaining the core business – something Edd has achieved successfully.”

Generating income from waste

Edd’s flagship biomass boiler scheme was installed as a means of generating income from straw waste left over from his harvests. Previously this waste had been removed from the farm, but the benefits of burning it efficiently were felt across the whole business.

“I had a lot of straw and I also had the problem of how to sustainably meet the cost of increased heating once the wedding enterprise expanded,” says Edd.

After doing some research and speaking to a neighbour who sold biomass boilers, it became clear that a straw-based biomass boiler was the solution.

Edd currently sells 2,000 tonnes of straw to a local power station, a contract he has held for several years. However, when he burns straw in his own biomass boiler he retains the ash and returns it to the fields to ensure no net loss of trace elements.

He can also burn the bottom bales as well as some top bales, which the power station would not previously take, saving him 12% of previously lost straw.

“It helps my cultivations, helps my weed burden, increases my income and means we’re not losing any nutrients. In short, it’s helping secure the future,” says Edd.

Planning for the future of arable business

Alongside income generated from the biomass boiler, the wedding business has flourished. This success encouraged Edd to convert the current site into a larger events complex. This has meant the main farming operation being re-sited to a different part of the farm and a new 1,200 tonne grain store being built, all funded by AMC.

Edd has also applied for AMC funding for an additional 3,000 tonne grain store structure with accompanying workshop, offices, meeting rooms and staff accommodation.

Edd is clear that choosing AMC to fund his ventures is the right decision. “You get a much longer term view with AMC,” he says. “A new grain store won’t necessarily pay its way quickly, but it will make me more efficient and reduce my costs. AMC understands that.”

Working with AMC

Edd’s vision and explanation of his innovative plans allowed AMC to understand the investment potential. “Edd runs a very good business,” says Mike. “Our investment decision comes down to the people as well as the project. We might get a proposition that completely works on paper, but we need to have confidence that the applicant can successfully deliver on the plans. Edd does that.”

As well as working closely with Michael, Edd also used the support of Jack Sharpe from Carter Jonas to secure funding and bring each project to fruition. Jack is clear that working together was a positive experience. “As agents, we have a good relationship with AMC and communicate regularly. There’s a good sense of trust between us and we are able to share ideas.”

Innovation drives future success

Building a sustainable and successful long-term business often means innovating. For Edd, this also means keeping a close eye on the farm’s figures, recognising opportunities to improve efficiencies, then planning and implementing them effectively.

Mike is clear that innovation is critical for future success. “Whatever kind of farming business they are, there are things farmers can do to innovate. They can look for improvements or new ventures and then thoroughly research them to support that ambition.

“Securing the funding for those plans, means doing the numbers and giving financial evidence to demonstrate why the investment can work. Importantly, farmers need to prove they are fully engaged with those plans as that’s often key to its success.”

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