Farm of the Week: Harrogate tree dealer branches out

It all started beginning to look a lot like Christmas just weeks after the last festive season finished at Rudfarlington Farm on the edge of Harrogate. That's when Mike Reynolds attended the Christmas & Gift Fair exhibition at the town's International Centre.

Mike Reynolds is ready for the big Christmas tree rush at Rudfarlington Farm.  Picture: Simon Hulme
Mike Reynolds is ready for the big Christmas tree rush at Rudfarlington Farm. Picture: Simon Hulme

The event proved an eye opener for a man who is more used to cereal crops, sheep and pigs than baubles, decorations and fairy lights but Christmas trees have been as much a part of life on the farm for many years and the reason for the visit was to extend his offer beyond trees.

“I went on my own the first day of the exhibition and came out totally bamboozled. I’d gone because of the new venture we’re launching this year The Christmas Barn selling all of the things you need for your tree. Over the years I’ve had lots of customers ask whether we sold other things so we’re giving it a go and I was there to choose what we would stock.

“We’ve sold trees for around 20 years but looking at all the trade stands I was amazed by the scale of Christmas as a business. The following days of the exhibition I took Callum who works with me and Penny Hudson who has a background in design and helped set up the shop. Together we made the decisions over what lines to stock.”

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    Last weekend saw the debut of the Christmas Barn as the tree-buying season started in earnest. This weekend it’s likely to be mayhem for the farm that is handily placed on Wetherby Road near the Great Yorkshire Showground.

    “We made our first delivery of a tree on November 20 and we’re always set up by the last weekend in November, this weekend it will probably go crazy as customers look to get the best tree they can. The main type of tree we sell is the non-drop Nordmann Fir. We also sell Fraser Fir and the more traditional Norway Spruce. This year’s trees have come from plantations in Scotland and also Markington near Ripon.”

    Rudfarlington Farm has been home to the Reynolds family since 1962 when Mike’s parents Donald and Constance became tenants of the then 200-acre holding from Harrogate Borough Council. Donald passed away in 1970 when Mike was just four-years-old and Constance farmed with the help of friends until he was old enough to farm in his own right. He took on the tenancy when he was 18.

    “It’s always been a mixed farm. We had 200 acres until 20 years ago when we added another 100 acres on a farm business tenancy. There have been a number of changes along the way. We always had pigs, sheep, cattle and cereal crops as well as potatoes and sprouts. We used to rear turkeys and chicken for Christmas. I gave up with beef cattle because the price went down and we weren’t really set up for a lot of them. Breeding pigs went in foot and mouth disease year of 2001.

    “Today we have 200 breeding ewes, which is double what we used to have, and the current flock includes 60 Dorsets that lamb in November so that we have nice fluffy lambs for when customers bring children with them for the trees. The ewes are really good mothers and don’t take a lot of looking after. The rest are Mules and Texels. We sell all the lambs at Wharfedale Farmers Auction Mart in Otley and buy replacements in from Skipton and in the Dorsets’ case from Exeter.

    “The only other livestock we now have are pigs that we contract rear. We have 120 that come to us at 30 kilos for three months until finishing. When we knocked the piggeries down from our breeding days there was one shed that was just too good to go. Rearing of turkeys and chicken and growing sprouts was in my mum’s days and now a long while ago.

    “The farm acreage is split to 120 acres of grass and 180 acres arable cropping. Winter wheat varieties Revolution and Evolution take up 100 acres. We didn’t have the best of harvests this time because of the wet winter. Our land is really heavy and the weather late last year and earlier this year didn’t help. The yield was down to around 3.5 tonnes an acre. We also grow Tower winter barley. Our new crop of oilseed rape was drilled in August and is already looking good. We use agricultural contractors for drilling but we do all of our own combining.

    “Ideally we like to get harvest over and drilled up as soon as we can. This year we were finished by early September and from that moment on our attention has been wholly fixed on Christmas with the Dorsets lambing, the trees arriving and the launch of the Christmas Barn.”

    Tree sales started earlier for Mike this year as an event being held at Harrogate International Centre ordered 110 trees for a forest scene in early November. Mike now sells thousands a year having started out from humble beginnings.

    “I was approached by a man who sold Christmas trees in Pateley Bridge. He wanted me to sell his seconds. I soon realised there was a market for quality trees and that our location was an advantage. We now sell what I believe to be the best trees around and the business has grown considerably. All the trees come to us netted, we then un-net them so that customers can see how good they are and then re-net them once they are sold. We also deliver trees for customers and supply 20ft trees for villages, pubs and clubs.

    “We have a good team. Callum Moore from Whixley, who came to work here as a Saturday lad, is the only other full-time man on the farm. My son Eddie, 15, has been selling trees since he was ten. He’s looking forward to going to agricultural college. Another farmer Tony Barton who I’m good mates with works on the trees too. My nephews also come and help. There are about half a dozen of us in all and Penny is looking after the shop.”

    The other alternative enterprise on farm is a DIY livery for 45 horses.

    “We started with it when we came out of pig rearing. The horses provide a regular income to the farm so long as we keep the stables full. My two daughters Emily (20) and Charlotte (18) have a horse each here.”