Farm of the Week: Meet the Yorkshire farmer who was thrust into running the business aged just 20

Adam Palmer must have wondered just what more could be thrown in his path when he took over as tenant of North Breckenholme Farm from his grandfather Brian Megginson who passed away in 2000.

Adam had grown a love of farming, spending weekends and holidays there, but at 19, going on 20 he was suddenly in charge, and at a formidable time.

Wheat was at an all-time low of £65 per tonne and within a year Foot & Mouth disease sent the countryside into lockdown. Farming was staring into the abyss.

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Nearly a quarter of a century later Adam has built what he hopes is a robust business model that sees his mixed farm enterprise, which has grown to around 400 acres from when he started, and now includes branded produce such as Yorkshire Rapeseed Oil, Charlie & Ivy’s and a unique sheep business called Six Valley Lamb, in conjunction with college colleague, friend and fellow farmer Peter Caley in Burton Constable.

Adam Palmer pictured amongst the Rape Seed at North Breckenholme Farm, Thixendale.Picture taken by Yorkshire Post Photographer Simon HulmeAdam Palmer pictured amongst the Rape Seed at North Breckenholme Farm, Thixendale.Picture taken by Yorkshire Post Photographer Simon Hulme
Adam Palmer pictured amongst the Rape Seed at North Breckenholme Farm, Thixendale.Picture taken by Yorkshire Post Photographer Simon Hulme

“I’d just come out of three years at Bishop Burton College,” says Adam. “At the time the farm was around 180-200 acres of arable with 200 sheep. Nothing was looking particularly promising, but with support from my parents, I dived in.

“I knew that I also wanted or needed to do something else to make the business work and, since I quite enjoyed finance, did additional training and got an accountancy qualification but I knew I wanted to do something more tied back to the farm.”

It was rapeseed oil, produced from a crop he grew and still grows today, that proved the catalyst to Adam’s success that now sees him more office-based and media savvy than purely a farmer.

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“I would classify myself as a very typical mixed farmer. I’ve always enjoyed the sheep without ever necessarily being a full-time shepherd; and I’ve always liked the arable side, but I get tired of sitting on a tractor quite quickly. I now thoroughly enjoy the variety of what I do and still have a keen interest in both.

Adam Palmer pictured some of  Rape Seed oil products at North Breckenholme Farm, Thixendale.Picture taken by Yorkshire Post Photographer Simon HulmeAdam Palmer pictured some of  Rape Seed oil products at North Breckenholme Farm, Thixendale.Picture taken by Yorkshire Post Photographer Simon Hulme
Adam Palmer pictured some of Rape Seed oil products at North Breckenholme Farm, Thixendale.Picture taken by Yorkshire Post Photographer Simon Hulme

“In 2006 rapeseed presses caught my interest, processing a crop that we were growing. I thought it was a really positive idea and started looking at it through the goggles of the biofuel industry, but it was this emerging market for British cold-pressed rapeseed oil for the food world that really piqued my fancy. I spent a couple of years researching it and finally bit the bullet and bought the equipment and converted a shed on the farm.

“My dad, Ben, who was a master mariner, a ship’s captain came on board with me and a pal Paul Scothern from the village. We launched it between us and we were pressing by 2008 as Yorkshire Rapeseed Oil.”

Such has been the ongoing success of Yorkshire Rapeseed Oil and the range of dressings, and then range of dipping oils under the Charlie & Ivy’s brand, Adam and his wife Jennie’s children’s names, that Adam says this side of the overall business at Breckenholme is the major player.

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“It trades at probably six or seven times what the farm trades at. It’s the bigger proportion of what we do and probably does take up 60-70 per cent of my time. We have a great marketing and sales team in the office, with Jennie leading the way and now sitting on the board of Deliciously Yorkshire; and I have a really keen young man Harry Payne who works alongside me looking after the farm.

Village Feature, Wetwang.St Nicholas Church.Picture taken by Yorkshire Post Photographer Simon Hulme 28th May 2024Village Feature, Wetwang.St Nicholas Church.Picture taken by Yorkshire Post Photographer Simon Hulme 28th May 2024
Village Feature, Wetwang.St Nicholas Church.Picture taken by Yorkshire Post Photographer Simon Hulme 28th May 2024

“We need around 400-500 tonnes of rape per year for the business, which equates to around 300 acres and grow around 25-30 acres of rape here, that makes us the smallest grower we have. We buy in from other farmers within Yorkshire, preferably within a 5-mile radius of the farm and we’ve really good growers.

“We extended our processing facility in 2020. I made the decision to spend a ridiculous amount of money and then Covid hit. We have developed a huge range since we started with natural rapeseed oil in 2008, dressings in 2010 giving us 11-12 mayonnaises. We launched the Charlie & Ivy’s range of dipping oils in 2014 moving away slightly from being seen as a purely Yorkshire brand.

“The proportion of what we do in standard rapeseed oil bottles is now quite small. We have 55 skews of our own brands, as well as making products for others.” Adam says Six Valley Lamb started coming about when Peter rang him one day in 2010.

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“Pete rang me for some advice. He had come back to the home farm in Burton Constable where they make a lot of high quality hay. He was looking at how they grazed their sheep and how it fitted in with their hay business.

Village Feature, Wetwang.Picture taken by Yorkshire Post Photographer Simon Hulme 28th May 2024Village Feature, Wetwang.Picture taken by Yorkshire Post Photographer Simon Hulme 28th May 2024
Village Feature, Wetwang.Picture taken by Yorkshire Post Photographer Simon Hulme 28th May 2024

“We immediately found synergies because we have summer grazing up here in the Wolds, but it is not much good for winter fattening, whereas he had the opposite, because he needed the hay off his land in summer and then has great winter land for sheep. We then realised that we could keep bigger numbers if we had more Wolds land and other grazing land between here and Burton Constable and Six Valley Lamb now runs to 1500 breeding ewes, mainly Romney and Exlanas throughout East Yorkshire. It’s now a separate venture to Breckenholme.

“Six Valley Lamb is based around producing supermarket spec carcases of ideally 21 kilos deadweight and trying to get the genetics to breed consistency to that carcase. It’s an extensive system and all sheep lamb outside.” Adam’s first main change to the farm had come in 2005-6 when he took on pigs on a bed and breakfast contract, initially with ACMC.

“We’ve since moved into the Mosey world of pigs and have been with Ian for a number of years now. We take through to bacon.

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“In 2019-20 I launched The Honest Bean Company. I was looking at creating a product that needed a protein source. A humus. I found that field beans were quite underutilised in the UK, although we export 80,000 tonnes a year. I started producing a fresh dip but being fresh, it was more of a challenge, as it only had a 10-day shelf life.

“In 2021 we started supplying a roasted snack product, a high protein, high-fibre snack. We roasted and seasoned them. It’s making a bit of a mark now. In 2022 we were on Aldi’s Next Big Thing. We’re now getting more followers. It’s really positive.” Adam is also keen on regenerative farming and has spent three years moving the farm that way. He said: “The ability to play with that and look at different techniques interests me. How we can do what we are doing a little more sustainably. We’ve not ploughed at all in that time.”

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