Josh and Lauren, from Hampreston Manor Farm, secured a position as one of the top three finalists for the 2023 Famers Weekly Dairy Farmer of the Year award. So, let’s find out a little more about Josh and Lauren and the drivers of success behind their farming business.
Firstly, let’s run through some farm facts. Josh and Lauren have 270 autumn calving grass-based cows self-fed in the winter (60 R1’s and 60 R2’s) producing 6500 litres at 4.5% fat & 3.6% protein. They sell on a solids contract to Blackmore Vale.
Hampreston Manor Farm covers 182 hectares (ha) in total with a 100ha platform – half of which can be prone to flooding at any time of the year, depending on the rainfall hitting the River Stour and the flood prevention scheme for local houses.
Over the years, the cows have been bred to LIC genetics to try and reduce their “legginess and size”, with the goal of breeding a cow of suitable stature, depth and capacity, ideal for a forage-based system.
In 2023, the cows grazed for 280 days. That’s down from 310 days in 2022, due to wet conditions and floods throughout the season.
Josh and Lauren are in a joint venture with Anne and Guy Trehane, whose family has farmed the land for the past 120 years. The joint venture is 50:50 stock ownership, with the couple owning the machinery, and Guy and Anne owning the fixed assets such as the parlour, tracks and water equipment. The profit-share is 80:20 in Josh and Lauren’s favour, with both parties getting a 10% return on capital invested.
Josh and Lauren’s journey to farming
Neither Josh nor Lauren come from farming backgrounds. After spending six months working for his builder father, Josh decided it wasn’t the right fit for him. He had already worked part time on a local farm, so enrolled as an apprentice at Kingston Maurwood College. This was followed by a role on a 200-cow housed system, then by a position as a herd manager on a 400-cow split block grass and forage-based system.
Eventually, Josh secured the role of herd manager for the previous contract farmer at Hampreston Manor. When the farmer made the decision to move on, Josh and Lauren seized the opportunity to step up. They purchased the cows and took over the contract. Over the last four year, the young couple increased their profit share from 0% to 50%.
Lauren had always wanted to become a veterinarian, and fulfilled her dream by graduating in 2019. However, her direction changed after agreeing to rear Josh’s calves for six months. She loved it so much she stayed.
The couple share the business management and breeding responsibilities on the unit. Lauren takes care of the young stock and herd health, while Josh looks after the grass, cropping and nutrition.
Within their discussion groups, whenever someone seeks pricing information or any input, Josh is always open and honest. Josh and Lauren emphasise that this philosophy offers an opportunity for young individuals, who may not have substantial financial resources or farming experience, to advance and establish their own agricultural business. Neither of them began with substantial sums of money. Instead, they relied on the savings accrued whilst in employment.
When questioned about their goals, the couple say their minimum aspiration is a home and land, providing security and a place to raise a family. Beyond that, their vision is to acquire residential properties for rental purposes, and possibly expanding to a second dairy unit.
Their alternative plan is to expand their cow ownership and offer them on lease to another aspiring dairy farmer who is starting out. Originally the aim was to own a dairy farm outright, but Josh says that contract farming gives you the opportunity to farm in your own right without a huge debt burden.
“It enables you to have a scalable business and good return on investment without a big capital investment.” The business stands very well in terms of comparable farm profit.
Drivers of success
Josh and Lauren believe good relationships with people is a key driver for success. A good relationship with the landlord and business partner is imperative, as well as with the people they employ – Dave the herdsman and Jake the apprentice.
They say get off farm and network, see new ideas and make the time to do this. Josh and Lauren are members of two LIC discussion groups – ‘Moovin on up’ and the ‘Autumn Group’. The discussion groups aid Josh and Lauren by giving them a platform to bounce ideas, trouble shoot, benchmark, and better themselves and their business.
A big thing for the couple is to work toward a 40- hour working week, both for themselves and their employees. When asked about the feasibility of this, it was revealed Lauren and Dave work a 40-hour week, while Josh is closer to 50–55 hours a week during calving and breeding season. Josh acknowledges the need to make improvements in this regard. Outside of the calving and breeding season, including Josh, they all have managed to reduce working hours.
This view on working hours was inspired by a discussion group visit to Mat Boley’s farm several years ago, where he shared insights on how he managed to achieve more balanced hours. Josh and Lauren say it is important that their young team can spend quality time with their own families.
The couple aren’t scared to invest in infrastructure, maintenance and their team, as this ultimately provides you with time in the long run. But it is not just financial investment that’s important. Investing time into planing and preparing for the busy periods, and setting goals, helps the couple’s success.
And last but definitely not least, looking after the cows and having the right cow for the system is a key driver for success for Josh and Lauren.
What the judges said
Three of the Dairy Farmer of the Year judges commented on Josh and Lauren – Gaynor Wellwood, farmer and consultant from Leicestershire, Catherine Pickford, dairy farmer and last year’s winner from Somerset, and Shirley MacMillan, Deputy Livestock Editor Farmers Weekly.
The first thing they all mentioned was how close the final judging was between the finalists. The points that really impressed them about Josh and Lauren were their grasp on all the numbers, their spotless farm, what they achieved in a short period of time with the correct forward-thinking for their situation, and that they are an inspiration to young people.
Establishing and expanding a business poses various obstacles to overcome. In response to this, Josh mentioned that securing finance can be challenging when you are young and unproven. They did manage to land some unsecured finance, but it was a small amount, and they had to pay a 9% interest rate on it. The remainder came from personal savings, a very small bit from an inheritance, and the largest part from profit-share. Josh adds, “so you have to make a profit!” With this in mind, comparable farm profit to year end August 2023 is 17.6p/litre.
When asked about their future plans, the couple shared they plan to get married and finish paying debt next year, are actively keeping an eye out for potential opportunities and also have their sights set on purchasing a house to provide security for their future. What advice would they offer to aspiring young individuals?
Josh comments, “work hard, it is possible, start small even if it is buying just one cow, be open to learning and open to advice and flexibility, go where the opportunities are.