Against all odds: The farmer whose business is finally coming up roses
PUBLISHED: 06:00 07 August 2019 | UPDATED: 11:01 07 August 2019
He started out with just one tractor and is now bossing a new business selling a chemical-free fertiliser for lawns and rose bushes. And all after some very challenging times. Caroline Culot spoke to Steve Suggitt, MD of PlantGrow.
If anyone is proof that if you persevere in the job you love, you can be successful, it's Steve Suggitt.
He started with almost nothing, with no farming experience and just a tractor and a muck spreader. He then built a business mucking out livestock for farmers which developed into additional services such as straw baling, forage harvesting and spreading fertiliser.
"My dad worked on a farm all his life," said Steve, 43. "I grew up beside a farm, that was an attraction from day one, there was nothing else on the cards at all, that's what I wanted to do. Dad was a farm worker, and I remember him saying in his 40s that he'd always wanted to start his own business and never did, he said that so many times that I thought that was what I was going to do.
"That's what made me think, 'let's do it'."
So the former Attleborough school student, who went on to Easton College, worked for two local farms to gain some experience and then in 2003 started the contracting business with wife, Sarah, 38. They met at a young farmers' dance but she wasn't from a farming family either - her dad was a lorry driver.
"Farming was completely new, but we wouldn't have built a business unless we could have done it together and whereas I am 'go, go, go,' Sarah is the one who says 'let's wait a minute.'"
With the emergence of more green initiatives, Steve started exploring the idea of using biodegradable plant matter to create biogas converted for the National Grid using an anerobic digestion plant and decided they would build one on land adjacent to where they now live and which also acts as the office base for PlantGrow.
Steve was using the bi-product from the process and spreading it on his fields and found it was really nutritious for the soil.
"We were applying the digestate to the land and it was so rigorous, we had so much, I was wasting it on the farm so I thought we have to create a garden business," he said.
Sadly, the funding of the anaerobic plant caused some severe business challenges which Steve prefers not to dwell on.
Determined not to be beaten, however, he recruited his brother Daniel and decided to persevere with the idea of selling the digestate as a garden fertiliser - and what had become a germ of an idea became a new business, PlantGrow.
"It was really tough," he said. "It was hard on Sarah, and our children. But I never thought I would pack it in, my heart has always been in farming, I love the farming world."
PlantGrow's appeal is that it is completely natural, chemical-free, and Steve has developed two varieties, one for lawns and another ideal for roses, both in a liquid and solid form, retailing from £5.99 to £12.99. "I came up with the name and logo myself, Daniel helped tweak a few things with the bottle, it started out looking like shampoo or something you pour into the bath," he joked.
Although it is possible to be used on farm crops, the volume needed means the cost would be prohibitive, so PlantGrow is aimed at the gardener's market.
But the potential is huge, he said, because there is the ability to create up to 50m litres a year.
At the moment Steve is keeping the business in the family, in the hands of just a few people he can trust. The fertiliser is bottled in Stowmarket but the tubs are provided to them empty and labelled, and they fill them by hand.
"We are on the cusp of something huge," he said. "Our turnover at the moment for PlantGrow is only £60,000-£70,000 a year but the potential is massive, it's already in 30-40 stores in Norfolk including Notcutts and we want to find a bigger, key contract for next year like a supermarket."
He reckons he's invested around £400,000 in the business and has just secured a contract to supply a firm in Holland. "A lot of noise is being made in Chicago too, there is a massive plant company over there looking at it," he said.
In fact, such is the potential in this business that a famous international businessman has expressed an interest in buying it, but Steve thinks it's too soon and wants to retain control.
"It's been a massive emotional journey, I've cut down on the contracting side of my business, I've always been a 'yes' man, that's how I have built the business, I have never said 'no' but it does bring its own pain.
"We decided to cut back and have a little more time with the family, (Steve and Sarah have four children aged 16, 15, 10 and eight.) "We are earning more money but doing less which is proof we made the right decision."