Giving farmers the freedom to innovate
Published: 24 May 2019
Graig Farm Organics, a Powys-based meat producer, has been able to turn its fortunes around thanks to AMC refinancing, and all without lessening its commitment to sustainable farming practices.
After travelling around the world and experiencing “amazing” produce, particularly in Africa, owner Jonathan Rees returned to the family farm in Powys with a mission. He wanted to deliver fresh produce to homes throughout the UK. “It’s no secret that Wales produces some of the finest produce in the world,” he says. “Whilst travelling this became more apparent than ever.
“It started on a small scale, selling our own meat from the family farm in 2002,” Jonathan continues. “In 2009, we bought out Graig Farm and soon we were supplying 70-80 shops per week throughout the UK. We even sold through the QVC TV channel – at times we were making around £3,800 each minute.”
Redirecting sales opportunities
The farm faced some tough times during the UK recession. Wholesale businesses, including restaurants and shops went into decline, with weekly orders reducing by three quarters in just three years. So Jonathan decided that they needed to find new opportunities, such as selling directly online to the end customer.
It was a steep learning curve, as Jonathan explains: “The internet is a tough marketplace. We spent a lot on improving our Google ranking in the early days, but at first uptake from customers was a bit slow. However, as online shopping increased in popularity, we saw sales improve. In 2015, for example, we were growing by about 80 customers a month; we’re now seeing an increase of about 130 every month.”
Flexibility to fuel growth
As demand increased, managing cash flow became a greater challenge, so Jonathan asked the bank he was with at the time for help – with little success. “We found our bank expected any growth or investment to come from profits,” he explains.
So, he approached AMC and found the response was very different. “Refinancing to AMC has allowed us to purchase cattle and lambs to bring on to the farm, which reduces our reliance on external producers, and is far more profitable,” Jonathan continues.
“We’ve also been able to put cattle sheds up to house more animals and adapt to rising demand for our meat. We now employ 10 people in the business and offer customers a full list of grocery products, including dried goods alongside the fresh produce.”
Jonathan found that working with his local AMC agent, Matt Williams of Brightwells, was easy. “He was great at explaining what we could expect from AMC, so we always knew what to expect and when,” he says.
Not only is Graig Farm an organic producer, but it continues to focus on innovative ways to push sustainability. Its latest focus has been on plastic. “We’ve reduced plastic use on the farm generally,” says Jonathan. “So, this year we did less round baling and used cord rather than plastic string.”
He also emphasised that the family is keen to extend environmental benefits to customers. “We’ve put time and effort into re-thinking our packaging,” Jonathan explains. “We’ve replaced polystyrene delivery boxes with cardboard boxes lined with wool for insulation, and we offer paper as an alternative to plastic as packaging. It turns out that it actually keeps better as well. Now 50% of the goods ordered by our customers are plastic-free.”
Refinancing for the future
Martin Waite, Regional Agricultural Manager at AMC, has been impressed with the forward-looking outlook that Jonathan has for the business. “Stabilising the finances, and refinancing to support that, has allowed Jonathan to push ahead with the innovative ideas he has for Graig Farm. He has a great understanding of his customers and their needs and is delivering products and services that fulfill those,” he says.
For Jonathan, AMC’s support has meant his family has been able to keep farming. “They are realistic and more in touch with their customers than other finance providers,” he explains. "That means they really understand the potential opportunities of businesses like ours. Without AMC, it wouldn’t be possible for us to realise our vision."