Cereals host farmer Alastair Priestley believes a good head for figures is vital when it comes to running a successful farm business.
Mr Priestley grew up less than 20 miles from Boothby Graffoe, Lincolnshire, where he is now managing director of Patrick Dean Farms and Aubourn Farming. He studied agriculture at Newcastle university and took accountancy qualifications afterwards.
“It might not be the normal route,” he explains. “But I wouldn’t have this job had I not done accountancy. Looking back now, it’s the best thing I could have done. And as much as I like being out in the field farming, the figures are as important as the farming.”
Patrick Dean Farms has grown significantly since Mr Priestley started 15 years ago. The cropping area has increased and the business now employs 30 staff. It has recently taken a major stake in Aubourn Farming which farms around 3,237ha.
Highly mechanised – but efficiently so – the two businesses run a Case Quadtrac, Cat Challenger, 8m Vaderstad drill, two 36m Bateman sprayers, two JCB Fastracs, six John Deere tractors and a Fendt 942.
An extensive range of crops are grown. In addition, there are areas of fallow land, environmental stewardship and land which is rented out. Soil varies from easy working light limestone heath land and a more bodied, heavier type in the Witham valley.
Enterprises currently include about 1400ha of winter wheat, 400ha of sugar beet, 300ha of spring barley, 280ha of potatoes, 275ha of poppy seeds for the culinary market, 120ha of beans, 120ha of oats, 40ha of peas and 40ha of oilseed rape.
Mr Priestley’s next focus is to expand the contracting side of the business to reduce overheads and to drive down costs of production to mitigate the gradual phasing out of Basic Payments.
“We are looking at what to do next and want to grow our client base by continually adopting new and innovative technologies,” he says. Variety is what he enjoys most.
The Cereals site itself is kept in a rotation of wheat and grass. Once the wheat has been harvested it is ploughed and put into grass. But the trial plot area for Cereals is managed by the event organisers and their partners.
This year in particular, the big draw to Cereals will be the opportunity for farmers to get off their own land and meet other people after lockdown, says Mr Priestley. “It’s good to get out there, exchange ideas and learn what others are doing and why.
“The networking is personally why I like to go. When wandering around an event, subconsciously you’re taking things on board through chatting to people – you pick up ideas far more than you realise.”
The site – in a field on a former RAF base – is free draining with good access and a concrete perimeter track. It makes it easier for visitors to drive in and out – including when the weather is wet, as it was during 2019.
“We don’t own much of the perimeter track but are able to collaborate with other local farmers who own the rest of it to enable the event to happen. We’ve been hosting it since 2011, so we know the site works.”
Comexposium knows the site works too and so do the police, adds Mr Priestley. “We like hosting the event; it’s great to have demonstrations on our farm as ultimately we all want to see how a piece of kit works on our own land.”