Farm of the Week: Variety in the hands on role of the farm manager

Martin Hodgson in a field of winter wheat at Home Farm, Methley.  Pic: James Hardisty
Martin Hodgson in a field of winter wheat at Home Farm, Methley. Pic: James Hardisty
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FARM MANAGERS are sometimes seen differently to those who own or tenant land, but the reality is that they are often under greater scrutiny to deliver better returns. There is also another common misconception that it means they don’t get involved in hands-on work.

Martin Hodgson has been farm manager for Methley Estate at Home Farm, Methley near Oulton for the past ten years having followed on from his father David. He is responsible for 1,200 acres including 140 acres 12 miles away in Thorner and has just one full-time farm worker with him.

“I’m very well aware that I’m dealing with other people’s money when making decisions on crop varieties, selling corn and other financial considerations but I always try to budget, spend and sell properly. I budget quite harshly to what is hopefully a worst-case scenario. I’d rather under promise and over deliver.”

Methley Estate is part of the much larger Mexborough Estate that runs to approximately 25,000 acres including land at Hawnby in the North York Moors and is owned by the 8th Earl of Mexborough John Savile. Martin has regular meetings with agent John Richardson and today’s farm business includes growing cereals, oilseed rape, renting out land for potatoes, a burgeoning Christmas tree set-up, red deer and a small flock of sheep.

“When I left school I worked for a local market garden enterprise and from there I joined agricultural contractor David Clark in Aberford who I was with for three years.

“I’ve always liked arable farming and the job got me on to a lot of different farms. I came back to Home Farm to join my father when I was around 21 and had about six years here before taking on my first farm manager’s role at Drewton Manor, South Cave in the East Riding.

“I’d studied at Askham Bryan College and had been on various supervisory and management courses with the then Agricultural Training Board but it was my time at Drewton Manor, initially with the Hellyer family and latterly Chris Taylor, that gave me my grounding in farm management.

“Working alongside someone who has earned their money from a completely different industry was a real eye-opener for me and it certainly gave me an education into how other businesses work. It made me think how we in the farming world have been manipulated and how perhaps other spheres of business would never have put up with what has happened in agriculture.”

Martin has been farm manager at Home Farm since his father retired ten years ago. Wheat makes up half the 700 acres of arable land.

“Last year our wheat averaged 3.75 tonnes per acre and on the better land we achieved four tonnes. We grow milling wheat for Warburtons and after a successful year with Crusoe last year it is now half of this year’s crop, with Skyfall making up the other half.”

Martin looks to achieve the maximum premium price available, which currently can be up to £35 over and above the feed wheat market price that stands around £120 per tonne.

“Last year I put 200 tonnes of wheat with a merchant within a grain pool as well as selling my own grain direct. At the end of the year I had received £10 per tonne above the pool price. When the price jumped to £150-£160 per tonne last year I sold 50 per cent of the crop straight away. Putting the 200 tonnes into a pool is a benchmark really. It’s something for me to show what the professionals have done against what I have managed.”

Six years ago the farm’s combine harvester needed replacing. One of Martin’s tenant neighbours was going through the same situation. They hired a combine between them initially and then bought one together. They have since entered into a joint venture agreement over both farm machinery and grain storage. Shire Grain, the grain marketing co-operative based in Pocklington where Martin had sent his grain previously, had closed and so the venture made good sense all round.

Martin is one of the few arable farmers I’ve interviewed in recent times who hasn’t suffered from blackgrass problems.

“Our rotation helps. I also try to do most things in-house so that means we don’t have big balers and swathing machines dropping things about.”

Woodland and water account for much of the non-arable land, including around 50 acres of fishing lakes. Home Farm also grows 25 acres of short rotation coppice that goes into Drax and in the last 20 years he and his father have built up another successful business.

“We have 10 acres devoted to 18,000 Christmas trees. We sell 3,000 a year, mostly 6ft Norway Spruce at around eight-years-old. We also sell what has been grown on the estate at Hawnby. We’re open to the public during the season and they can come and cut down their own tree using handsaws we provide.”

Within the Christmas tree plantation Martin now has a flock of 20 Shropshire breeding ewes.

“They graze around the trees without eating them. We started with a dozen ewes and I’m gradually building up the flock.”

The other livestock business at Home Farm is red deer and Martin currently has a herd of 50 hinds.

“There always used to be a deer park on the estate when Methley Hall was here and my father reinstated them after we had some surface mining take place. The mining company paid for new deer fencing and we now sell deer at the point of weaning to Nigel Sampson at Home Farmed Venison.”

Martin’s involvement with stewardship schemes on the farm has now taken him into the area of education, particularly with schools that now visit regularly.

“Methley Estate has won Royal Forestry Society awards and we now host school days when coach parties come to find out more about trees and the woodland environment.”