Arable farmer using Big Data to analyse contracting business

Friday, 12 June 2020

Wisbech Monitor Farm joins AHDB's Farm Excellence network with the aim of harnessing the power of technology to oversee his network of contract farming arrangements.

Andrew Melton and son Sam run a sprawling contract farming operation, stretching approximately 15 miles around their family farm in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire. They use data capturing software to analyse their cost of production and find ways to cut costs without affecting profitability.

Andrew says, We oversee a complex operation and in the past it’s been hard to bring together data from different sources. Previously everything was centralised and run through the main farm business.

“Taking advantage of the age of Big Data, we now use lots of different technology on farm to capture information. This allows us to analyse the constituent parts of our business and find out our true costs.”

Fellow growers will examine the strengths and weaknesses of Andrew’s approach to business management as he and Sam join the Monitor Farm programme, AHDB’s UK wide network of farmers dedicated to improving business performance by sharing best practice.

Andrew and Sam will jointly host regular meetings of local farmers to discuss issues in their region. In doing so, they are looking forward to joining a progressive community who are keen to learn and improve their businesses.

Located North East of Peterborough, the Melton’s farm comprises 1,400 hectares of arable cropping including wheat, barley, oilseed rape and sugar beet. The contracting side of the business has grown to a comprehensive ‘stubble to stubble’ service, whereby clients receive everything from cultivation through to harvest.

“The way we’ve grown our business is something I’m really proud of. We started with just an autumn spraying service. We have taken this forward to diversify into other business opportunities, such as a soil sampling service for potato growers.”

Already familiar with the Monitor Farm programme, having attended previous events, Andrew said going to meetings made him think about how he could apply the lessons he learned on his own farm. Joining the programme as a host farmer means that he and Sam have a platform to put new ideas into practice, to open those up to peer review and share the outcomes.

The challenges Andrew and Sam are keen to explore through the Monitor Farm programme include reducing soil tillage with the use of ‘appropriate’ cover crops and thereby costs, increasing soil health and boosting yield and profitability.

As we move into the post-EU chapter of British farming, Andrew believes preparing for the withdrawal of subsidy payments is vital and farms need to adapt. Using benchmarking for fixed cost interrogation and becoming less reliant on insecticides/inputs to reduce their use of chemical inputs, Andrew and Sam are keen to review and develop their system. The pair also want to use Monitor Farm meetings to examine the government’s new Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme in more detail.

Supporting Andrew in his new role will be AHDB’s Knowledge Exchange Manager for the East Anglia region, Teresa Meadows.

Teresa said, “Andrew and Sam run a forward thinking and progressive family business, already embracing new technologies and preparing for the changes in farming policy in months and years ahead. Farmers participating in these meetings, in this new area for a Monitor Farm, will have much to discuss, learn and share, to progress with business and personal development.”

Andrew will host the Wisbech Monitor Farm, the latest addition to the Farm Excellence network in the East Anglia region. Other current hosts include Richard Ling (Diss Monitor Farm) and Tom Mead and David Hurst (Duxford Monitor Farm). All Monitor Farms hold regular meetings in the winter along with a summer on-farm meeting over a three-year period. For more information visit the Monitor Farms homepage.