Norfolk’s Yield Network finds farming inspiration on tour of the South West

PUBLISHED: 12:41 24 May 2018 | UPDATED: 13:15 24 May 2018

Members of Norfolk's YIELD (young, innovating, enterprising, leading and developing) farming network made their inaugural tour to the South West. Picture: Luke Paterson

Members of Norfolk's YIELD (young, innovating, enterprising, leading and developing) farming network made their inaugural tour to the South West. Picture: Luke Paterson

Luke Paterson

Young farming professionals from Norfolk travelled across the country to gain inspiration from innovative food businesses in the South West of England.

The Yield (young, innovating, enterprising, leading and developing) Network is an initiative started and supported by the Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association, with members aged 20 to 45.

Having hosted meetings and business visits in Norfolk, the decision was made to venture out of the county for the group’s inaugural tour, which took seven members to visit four successful companies around Bristol, Somerset and Devon.

One of the tours was with Martin Thatcher, who appears in the TV adverts for Thatchers Cider. He discussed his business strategy with the Norfolk visitors.

“The Thatchers are an incredibly successful farming family,” said Yield chairman Andrew Spinks. “One of his most interesting comments was that, in a time where often farmers are told to diversify he decided that to be successful and be in the top percentage of cider producers – the ones who survived in the hard times – that he needed to solely focus on cider.

“Diversification causes distraction from the core business and means that you can’t be the best in your industry – an interesting thought. The factory tour was phenomenal; scale, technology and tradition combined to make a wonderful product.”

Another visit was to Bioaqua farm – the largest aquaponic trout farm in Europe, founded by Italian-born former chef Antonio Paladino.

Mr Spinks, said: “His aquaponic system started with tanks of 600 trout which he fed with organic fish food, the water from the tanks was pumped around a number of growing beds which either contained clay growing granules or floating plant pot holders, growing in these beds an amazing array of interesting and flavou-filled vegetables and herbs, from where the water was then pumped – stripped of nutrients – back into the fish ponds. Antonio opened our eyes to a fresh attitude to food, an innovative system and some great tasting and unusual plants.”

The group also visited Lye Cross Dairy, where brothers John and Peter Alvis milk 750 cows and produce 45,000 tonnes of cheese a year, and met Mole Valley Farmers commercial director Keith Ockenden at the firm’s headquarters in South Molton.

Mr Spinks, who is an agricultural business consultant in the Norwich office of Brown and Co, said: “The common theme across these businesses was that they had taken agricultural product applied passion, ambition and skill to add value through processing and marketing.”

Yield members also met Rupert and James Cox from the Royal Bath and West Society.

• Yield is currently working on its program for next autumn, and welcomes invitations from businesses, individuals and organisations interested in hosting visits. Anyone aged 25 to 45 with an interest in agriculture and rural life is welcome to join the mailing list and attend events.

For more information, see the Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association website.

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