Farm of the Week: The farmer whose most lucrative crop is stones and who is turning his dairy into rural offices
Beef cattle, racehorse haylage, cereals and root crops make up the mix for one North Yorkshire farmer, but it is an unlikely crop that has been paying dividends more recently.
By Chris Berry
Saturday, 12th February 2022
Tim Gibson farms across around 300 acres at Hunters Hill Farm in Crakehall where he has found that his land type has brought about another unique aspect to his farming enterprise.
Tim said that such has been his success in harvesting stones that he has bought a stone harvester and he is now being sought out by other farmers.
“Stone has been our most profitable crop on average over the last three years. Our land is very sandy and gravelly and it has proven a constant problem. Stones cause untold damage to farm machinery, getting stuck in your drill, breaking power harrows.
We invested in a Finnish machine that rakes and harvests the stone. It alleviates the need to pick up the stones manually and because many other farmers suffer similar problems we are picking up contracting work.”
“The market value of the stone makes it viable for us to offer this service to other farmers. We need to put in a new access road to the farm for rural offices that we are shortly going to be launching. The stone that we have harvested would have cost us thousands if we’d had to buy it.
“The other benefit is our fields are much better. It’s making a big difference to our productivity as well as saving on machinery costs.”
Tim said his regular cropping is of winter wheat, barley, potatoes and racehorse haylage.
I buy a specialist mix of grass for racehorse haylage and this year I have 100 acres of it. It goes to a company called Wensleybale, which has a tremendous record in being fed to successful racehorses. They supply the major racehorse stables in the UK.
“Our rotation is usually two years of grass leys for the haylage followed by two years of wheat, then barley followed by stubble turnips which are followed by potatoes in the spring. After that it is two more years of wheat and then back to grass for two years.
“This year I have 100 acres of winter wheat, 70 acres of winter barley and will grow 40 acres of potatoes, some spring barley and the rest will be down to grass for racehorse haylage.”
Tim came out of dairying in 2017 after a lifetime’s involvement in the sector. He had let go of his 200 Holstein cows six months earlier, but still had around 100 Guernsey cows that he was milking on contract for Brymor Ice Cream at Jervaulx.
An electrical fire that wiped out his power for all mains electric, his generator, phone lines and internet saw an immediate end to any dairying at Hunters Hill.
Tim said it was not how he’d anticipated leaving the milk world.
“We had a decent contract with Brymor, but dairy cows have to be milked and we no longer had the resources. They had been milked by robots here, which meant that some would have milked overnight normally and were ready to milk.
“The fire brigade, having dealt with the fire, left the farm at 2am and the cows began leaving at 4.50am, initially to a dairy farmer four miles away, who put them through his parlour.”
Tim’s Holstein dairy cows had been sold before the fire, but he had kept some of his dairy heifers that had been bred to a Belgian Blue bull and he said those heifers now form part of his suckler herd.
“I now have a herd of 20 Belgian Blue-cross-Holstein suckler cows that I’m currently putting to a British Blonde bull. It’s all spring calving and I’m turning them out as they calve.
“If we can, we run them fairly extensively keeping the cows out on root crops in the winter. The spring-born calves and their mothers come in at autumn while the calves are weaned but then if the weather is right the cows are back out again.
“Our original intention was to sell as stores but we went into a TB1 zone through no fault of our own nor our neighbours and I just felt that stores buyers having to undertake a post-movement test would knock the price.”
Tim said he is still on a learning curve having left the milking sector for beef, but he knows what he’s looking for in his herd.
“I want cows that are easily manageable and when it comes to replacements I will probably purchase what I’m looking for out of others’ dairy herd crosses. I’m looking at bull calves going to market at around 15 months and the heifer calves at more like 18 months.”
Tim has always turned his hand to diversifying his farm enterprise utilising what he has at his disposal. His knowledge of the dairy farming world saw him as one of the first to enter the robotic milking sector and dairy sundries.
Tim said it is a sector that he’s still involved in today even though he is no longer a dairy farmer.
“we trade in exporting robotic milking systems all around the world. Recently that has included Canada, America, Cyprus, Poland and throughout mainland Europe. We have developed robotic milking add-ons and upgrades such as liners. There is even a dealer in Korea who supplies my products to Korean dairy farmers.”
Tim started a new business of self-storage in redundant farm buildings and is currently also working on a new rural office development in what were the old dairy buildings.
He said, rather like his recently most lucrative crop, he is leaving absolutely no stone unturned.
“We opened the self-storage units as an offshoot to the farm in March 2020 just before the first lockdown. It took off and hasn’t let up. We have 40 units.
“The new rural office development that will open later this year was a no-brainer. People are now looking to either work from home or closer to home. We had the buildings and are furbishing them as office space in a fantastic part of the world.”