Farm Of The Week: Worldwide renown with home roots

Tim Rymer with sons Ben and Josh
Tim Rymer with sons Ben and Josh
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It started more than half a century ago as a typical East Yorkshire pigs and arable farm.

But today the farming business founded by John Sykes Rymer, whose initials give JSR Farming Group its name, is an internationally renowned brand and one of Yorkshire’s principal agricultural companies.

Based at Southburn, near Driffield, it supplies breeding stock and genetics to more than 30 countries worldwide, including economic powerhouses China and Russia.

Founded in 1958 as a 400-acre mixed holding, home to arable crops and pigs, today it stands at 3,600 hectares, boasts a £28m turnover and employs some 135 people.

While perhaps most famed for its pigs it also grows winter wheat, oil seed rape, potatoes and barley as well as reserves for environmental schemes.

Elsewhere, a 220-strong suckler beef herd is found on the farms as well as a trial run of an energy crop.

Today the business is run by John Rymer’s son Tim. And while the firm runs a very sizeable pig herd it does not remain immune to the current crisis looming for Britain’s pig farmers.

A disastrous harvest season in the United States combined with other international economic factors mean that feed prices are currently going through the roof, rising by as much as 25 per cent.

Feed costs can make up as much as 60 per cent of the cost of rearing a pig, meaning that the nation’s producers are looking at soaring overheads.

Speaking at JSR’s Southburn base, Mr Rymer said: “It is unquestionably going to be a very tough year for pig producers. We are fortunate in the respect that we produce our own wheat and winter barley.

“I am hoping that they can get the support of the whole industry. But the rest of the year up until Christmas is going to be quite hard, no question.

“By autumn, pig numbers are going to drop off in the UK and of course this will happen across Europe. The whole process is going to take time.”

In response the company is throwing itself massively into how it can best improve the efficiency of its current offering.

Already a heavily mechanised system sees computers and technology monitor each pig’s feed intake and conversion rate in a bid to better monitor production costs.

“That sort of technology is really helping us to get more from what we are already doing,” said Mr Rymer.

“There will be a real focus in the company on the control of the pig side of things, particularly on feed efficiency.

“Sixty per cent of the cost of producing a pig comes in feed prices. Anything we can do to improve that efficiency provides a really big benefit.

“When it comes to pigs the animal that grows the fastest is not always necessarily the most efficient.

“We are obviously going to be looking at more and more extreme weather. As recently as six weeks ago we thought we were going to be looking at a record wheat harvest but we are obviously not so sure now.”

At the moment the business is looking at a production rate of around 25 pigs per sow each year.

Mr Rymer said: “We are not just a breeding company. We believe in high performance animals for farmers to get more consumers.

“With beef herds they have reached the holy grail in terms of high performing animals and it is working extremely well.

“We are making good progress with the pigs on this area, not just with the genetics but with diets too.

“For 40 years now the focus has been on removing fat but some fats can add better taste.”

Another development at the Southburn site in the last year has been the development of the JSR cookery school, which already is bringing in visitors from across the country.

The school has also proved useful for the farming business, in terms of providing a venue to really look at the quality of various meats.

Mr Rymer said: “One of the real benefits is looking at the meat quality side. We use the cookery school to really look at the eating quality of meat.

“We work with a trained taste panel, drawn from the locality. They all went through auditions. With wine-tasting there is a vocabulary that goes with it, but with meat there is not, so we had to develop our own language for them to use. Sainsbury’s and Morrisons have been up to see how the taste panel works.”

The company also has a fascinating machine which measures tenderness by simulating a knife and a mouth. However, JSR remains very much a working farm business.

Rapeseed grown there goes into the commercial market and the site has storage big enough to store 10,000 tonnes of potatoes at an ambient temperature. The potatoes themselves are grown for seed production, the retail market and Walkers Crisps.

Vining peas are grown as part of the famed Swaythorpe Growers co-operative while beef from the Stabiliser breeding programme is marketed in the area through the Givendale Prime brand.

The pig herd too remains a strong line. A total of 28 pigs are weaned per sow each year and 25 pigs are sold per sow each year. A recent £2.3m state-of-the-art finishing facility is very much the jewel in the crown.

The international pig exportation line is also one of great potential as Mr Rymer reflects.

“We identified pigs as the area for growth, the potential in international markets is very much an opportunity. When we first started in the mid-1970s my dad had the opportunity to study what was going on in China and Russia, and I went along to the former aged just 13. It was still in the Mao Tse-tung days with people riding around in green uniforms on bikes.

“But I do remember my dad saying that one day these markets would be a really huge opportunity for JSR. Aged just 13 that really stuck in my mind.

“We started exporting in the early 1980s to Germany and built it up from there.

“The foot and mouth outbreak in 2001 was a real setback. Of course they all have a growing middle class and meat is still seen as something you have on special occasions only. If you can put good meat on the table you really demonstrate that you have made it. The potential there is just huge. China has half of the world’s pigs.”

And being based in East Yorkshire, home to a quarter of the country’s pigs, has its advantages, both at home and abroad.

“Yorkshire itself has a very strong brand internationally, as does Great Britain – there is a perception that the British will always be straight in business. The large white pig is known around the world as ‘The Yorkshire’.”