Farm Of The Week: New test of rural leader skills for Angela

Angela Kirkwood
Angela Kirkwood
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Yorkshire’s farmers are passionate about the job, as Charlotte Richardson found when she visited East Yorkshire.

You don’t have to be with Angela Kirkwood very long before you realise how passionate she is about her business.

Pig farmer Angela is proud to work on her family farm, keen to learn and enthusiastic about the future of agriculture, and it’s this passion which has now won her a place on a prestigious farming course.

Angela, 29, has been awarded a place on a two-week course run by the Worshipful Company of Farmers.

The WCOF is a livery company in the City of London and runs two flagship residential courses each year with 18 places available on each.

The organisation aims to promote the agricultural industry and develop the skills of everyone working in agriculture.

Angela has secured a place on the two-week Challenge of Rural Leadership course, in January, which is run by the Duchy College, Cornwall.

Course delegates examine the political, environmental and financial challenges facing the agricultural industry.

Angela said: “In a family business you get so busy that you get blinkered to the outside world. I’m hoping that attending this course will open my eyes to new ideas in the industry and new ways of thinking that are out there and which I can bring home and apply to my business.

“I’m keen to hear from people in central government about what they want from our industry and to understand more about what happens at that level and how to influence it.

“We need to link in more with London and they need to understand the part that we play. Rural businesses are very important to the economy both locally and nationally.”

Angela’s name was put forward for the course by a colleague in the industry.

She said: “He contacted me and said he thought this course could be great for me so I thought, why not give it a go?”

The course is a mix of guest speakers, including Government representatives and buyers, case studies and leadership challenges.

Angela applied and was selected for interview in London, where she was quizzed by a WCOF panel of seven including industry experts, former students and course tutors.

She said: “I had to prepare a three-minute presentation and answer questions from the panel which was quite nerve-wracking.”

Once offered a place, Angela then had to start writing letters and emails to gather the £2,250 funding needed to match that already pledged by Defra.

Angela said: “I’ve been really lucky and secured all the funding that I needed thanks to the NFU, BPEX and a private funder.

“I’m hoping the course will help me develop personally, in my own business and in the industry. I really believe that people should keep learning and training during their career.”

After leaving school Angela gained experience in a range of companies, including Marks & Spencer, Blue Keld Water and JSR Genetics.

Angela said: “At Marks & Spencer I did visual merchandising, at Blue Keld I worked in sales and at JSR I worked in public relations and event management. All these have given me a range of skills and knowledge that I now apply to improve and develop our business.”

Angela completed a Young Farmers’ Discovery programme tour of Canada, looking at a range of farms, before returning home and asking to work on the family farm.

She said: “I said to my dad, ‘Please can I come and work at home’ because I felt ready then. He said, ‘Of course, I’d love you to’ and so I came to work at home.

“I knew that it was important to go out and get experience in other jobs, and that has been invaluable. I learned so much about companies, working for local businesses and for multi-nationals like Marks & Spencer. I discovered what was expected of staff and how to manage people. In every job I worked towards improving local food, something I think is very important.”

Angela has been working at home on the family farm since 2009. Working alongside dad Peter, they farm across three sites in Holderness. The main family farm is at Rimswell, where the family’s 1,000 sows are based. During a year they produce more than 20,000 finished piglets. A second farm in Aldborough is the family’s arable base with 600 acres of crops and the third site in Halsham houses East Riding Country Pork, their farm shop and butchery.

Angela said: “My dad had the idea of starting East Riding Country Pork in 2000 when pig prices were low and people were complaining that pork didn’t taste like it used to. Our aim was to sell some of our pork directly to the customer.”

The family now sell a range of pork products alongside locally sourced beef, lamb poultry and game, all butchered on the premises, in their farm shop and at farmers’ markets, in Beverley, Driffield and at the Humber Bridge.

Angela has already used her previous retail experience to improve the business. She said: “I’ve looked at our customers and their basket spend at the farmers’ markets and in the shop and how we can provide them with what they want. My next plan is to look at the shop and how we can make that a better experience for the customer. I’m looking into videos which will be displayed in the shop, and which will show the farm, as I’m keen to show people where their meat comes from.”

The family have also started doing “Pork sausage experience” tours, where visitors can visit the butchery and make their own sausages before tucking in to a buffet.

Angela said: “We’re always on the lookout for new ideas. I have recently revamped our logo, website and leaflets which seems to have been a great hit with customers.”

Angela also has ideas for the pig unit, with long-term building plans and more short-term plans for renewables including solar panels, a turbine and bio-mass options.