More like traders than farmers

In England’s Hertfordshire, Robert Hodgkins is farming through crazy times.

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In England’s Hertfordshire, Robert Hodgkins is farming through crazy times.

I am sure like you guys we are facing some serious economic headwinds in Europe. The Ukraine war has caused a level of volatility in the cereals market that 18 months ago no one would have believed.

Fertiliser prices have rocketed, nitrogen is about $1500/tonne, road fuel (cars and utes) is about NZ$3.60 a litre and tractor fuel, about $2.30.

Crazy times.

Margins have increased slightly but the level of risk is considerable. We are starting to feel more like a trader than a farmer at present.

With the above in mind it seems slightly crazy to tell you that we have just taken on another 202 hectares of arable land on a neighbouring farm. This brings us to about 810ha of arable – about as much as we can fit through the combine so our plans are very much to try and stabilise at this point.

Sheep numbers are edging upwards again and we should be touching about 2500 ewes now. Help is continuing to be very elusive. We had to get rid of the last shepherd after a drink-driving police chase and a helicopter above the house at 3.30 in the morning. What a carry on. Anyone reading this and fancies an OE give me a shout,

Sheep dairy was finished in the summer and we managed to get about four weeks shakedown testing on it before the ewes dried up so this spring we will jump headlong into our first full year of sheep milking – again we are lacking labour so will have to start actively looking in the new year.

Perhaps one of the most interesting things we have done is to set up an advisory board for the farm. The business itself is fairly young having grown from about 25ha and 200 ewes in 2014 to 810ha of arable, 2200 New Zealand Romneys and 300 milking ewes.

Turnover next year is set to hit $4.5 million, but neither myself or Jo has had any real experience of operating a company so big, the last 10 years have been about out and out growth at any price, the constant cashflow balancing, funding new projects out of cashflow rather than loans etc has taken its toll.

The stresses involved have been breathtaking at times and I am extremely proud of what we have achieved but with the farm at about the size we always wanted we have felt a period of consolidation is needed to set the business up for the next 10 years.

We also have set ourselves a target of a buying a farm for the kids before we kick the bucket. So we have staffed an advisory board with five people much smarter than us and we meet about four times a year. The goal will be to transform the farm from its growth stage to a cash generating business that can fund the purchase of its own land.

It’s going to be an exciting new phase and while the target purchase will be about $10,000,000, we are going to have to move mountains to get the business capable of generating enough cash to fund the repayments. It’s going to be a hell of an adventure and will require a boat load of planning and a fair bit of luck!

In the midst of all of this I am planning another trip to NZ in 2024 to replenish our ram supply. I will be visiting studs to try and bring back some high maternal worth Romney tups (about 10) and three or four dairy milk rams to the UK to make sure our genetics continue to be the best they can.