Paul George was recently crowned Farmer of the Year at the Cornwall Farm Business Awards. We caught up with him to talk about his farming business and plans for the future…
For Paul George and his wife Tracey, farming is quite simply a way of life. Farming has been in the family for generations and that’s the way Paul wants it to stay.
“Farming is my passion, it’s my life. I knew from when I was a toddler that I wanted to be a farmer and carry on my father’s work. It’s all I ever wanted to be,” he says. “I hope that one or more of my four children will keep it going after I’ve retired too!”
It was a matter of great pride to Paul to be named Farmer of the Year at a glittering ceremony at the Royal Cornwall Showground in February this year.
Nominated by Lowena Holt, a member of Stephens Scown’s property team in Truro, Paul says he was “flattered and humbled” to be put forward.
After making the shortlist of four, an independent judge came to visit the farm and decided Paul’s farm, Nansmerrow at Tresillian near Truro, was the winner.
The judge was full of praise for the farm, commending Paul not only for his enthusiasm but for the “great detail attached to the economics of the farm”, as well as the welfare of the herd and the “sustainable system” he has implemented. “A lovely stamp of cow with superb udders, good feet and legs, which I call hard wearing,” the judge commented.
Paul and Tracey have expanded the farm significantly over the last eight years. It used to rear around 50 cows, but now holds some 290 milking cows (Holstein Friesians) with a total head of stock of nearly 500. There is 500 acres of land – “a moderate size in today’s terms” Paul says – with forage maize and loose fern grown to go into the cows’ feed.
The judge described Paul as “meticulous” and this is certainly borne out in his grasp of all the key farm statistics. Last year saw an average of 11,756kgs of milk sold per cow, with further milk used to feed the calves as well. This is a fine yield that puts the farm at the top end of productivity – Paul estimates that they are in the top 10% in terms of efficiency in the UK.
So what’s the secret of their success? “There are no secrets really,” Paul says. “It’s just about commitment and hard work, and making your cows’ lives as easy and comfortable as possible so that they can fully express their genetic potential.”
All of the farm’s milk is sold to the cooperative Arla, with much of it going directly on Arla’s behalf to the famous Rodda’s Creamery nearby.
Paul has also made great efforts to maximise the cost efficiency of the business. Solar panels installed on the roofs of the milking parlour and cubicle house, for example, generate around 126,000 KW of electricity which helps reduce his electricity bills.
So what of the future? Despite the great productivity and efficiency of the farm, the business is nevertheless making a loss at the moment due to the very low price of milk. And Paul does not shirk the fact that the outlook for dairy – and indeed all sectors of farming – is very challenging.
“It’s simple supply and demand,” he says. “There is a global over-supply and demand is not high enough. It’s only a few percentage points out but it has a massive effect on the price. With cheap imported milk flooding the country, supermarkets are in a very strong position to bring prices down. I’m afraid they’ve used milk as a loss leader. It’s devalued the product and made life very difficult. We just have to hope that prices will get back up again in the next couple of years.”
Paul’s appreciative of the various campaigns that have been run in support of the industry, such as Stephens Scown’s Support South West Dairy Farmers campaign that encouraged consumers to buy locally produced dairy. “All these things help the industry, they all have a part to play. Pennies make pounds as they say!”
If things don’t pick up within the next few years, then Paul has genuine worries that many farming businesses won’t be able to carry on.
But, looking on the brighter side, farming has always found a way and British farming is exceptional for its standards of quality and welfare.
As Paul puts it very succinctly: “UK farmers are a credit to themselves and to the world.”