David has headed up the Cowdray Farms team since June 2019.
Has your career always been in agriculture?
Yes, I was brought up in a farming family in Yorkshire. Then I studied Agriculture at Harper Adams, before returning to Yorkshire and working on various local farms. In 2007 I joined Velcourt [who now manage Cowdray Farms] and I’ve worked for them in Dorset, Kent and Wiltshire, prior to Cowdray.
What does Cowdray Farms comprise?
It is a mixed farm with 850 hectares of arable, 230 hectares of permanent pasture, 90 hectares of environmental stewardship, 60 hectares of dairy grazing, 300 dairy cows (contracted to M&S select farms) and 30 head of beef cattle, about two thirds of which supply the Cowdray Farm Shop each year.
And what is your vision for the future of farming here?
Increasing biodiversity and sustainability.
2020 is obviously a challenging time for Farmers, you’re facing Brexit, a lack of seasonal workers, Covid-19, a deluge and then drought. Are you having a particularly difficult year?
Yes! But that’s farming, there’s always something and this year all the factors are beyond our control. The weather plays a huge role in yields. Last winter we had record rainfall (37.5inches between Sept 23rd 2019 and end February), followed by only 25mm in May and June combined. My main challenge is soil differentiation, Cowdray Farms are polar opposites, the land at Bepton is clay and Moor Farm is on sand. I am focussing on long-term resilience by renovating drainage at Bepton, I’ve introduced a new cultivator and drill to improve crop establishment and I am working on our dairy business to increase the grazing platform, with the intention of feeding more forage and decreasing concentrates.
Which job do you look forward to most each year? And the one you dread?!
The best is definitely harvest, it is generally a great time of year and the culmination of a years hard work. I don’t use the machinery anymore, but drilling used to worry me… if you got it wrong you’d have to look at it for a whole year!
What’s your idea of a good day off?
Time with my family. I am a great cricket and rugby fan. I’d happily lose myself for five days at a test match.
Are you a mountain or beach person?
Tricky – I am keen on both as long as I’m kept busy. I used to ski a lot and I’d be quite happy on the beach for a few days too.
What’s been your greatest achievement to date?
I am proud of my children. I am pleased to have a degree and I was delighted to be named Farm Manager of the Year 2018 in the South West Farmer Magazine Awards.
Favourite book or film?
I have just finished Ben Stoke’s excellent autobiography and I am looking forward to November when the new Bond film is due for release – it has been a long wait.
What’s your managerial style?
I have great trust in my team of five full time workers. I love farming and managing the farms, but it’s crucial that I leave them to do their work. My role is heavily office based, weighted towards health and safety and other compliance. I am an Agronomist which gives me a perfect excuse to escape the office from time to time, otherwise I am here to oversee.
No 1 on your bucket list?
Are you a supper at home or pub person?
Finally, what can’t you live without?
My wife and children.
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