Collaboration is key to future farming success, says NFU Norfolk's new chair

The new chair of NFU Norfolk says farmers should work together to make a success of the challenging years ahead.

Jamie Lockhart believes Norfolk farming is well placed for a positive future if farm businesses collaborate. He set up a successful joint venture farming company when he worked for Watlington Farms in the early 200Os and he is now investigating collaboration opportunities in his new role, as managing director of Brandon-based Frederick Hiam Ltd.

“I’m genuinely optimistic about the opportunities but I think it’s going to be different - the status quo isn’t going to work. If farmers collaborate with others, look for new ways of doing things and be open minded then absolutely there are huge opportunities,” he said.

“Looking at the new environmental scheme, ELM, for example, if you want to unlock some of the opportunities that are available, those will require a larger footprint than a single business can offer so that will encourage joint working.

“And once you get farmers talking to each other about one particular area, they start to open up on other areas of their businesses. It’s interesting to see how, from that initial collaboration, farms then start to collaborate in areas they didn’t expect to be doing at the outset.”

Both Jamie’s grandfather and father worked as farm managers so farming was in his blood and he did not consider any other career. After studying at Shuttleworth College in Bedfordshire, he was offered a position with James Paterson at Dilham and decided to work there instead of continuing his education at Harper Adams.

“I started off as a fairly green working farm manager and really enjoyed my time there. I remember James telling me he would be disappointed if I left after three years and even more disappointed if I was still there after five years. That was really useful advice to give to someone starting off in their agricultural career,” he said.

He then worked at Watlington Farms before he was offered an opportunity to manage the farming business and diversification enterprises at Honingham Thorpe Farms. He stayed there for 16 “very enjoyable and full-on” years before starting with Frederick Hiam on 4 January.

“I could happily have spent my time at Honingham but Frederick Hiam is a very different business model. We are very customer-focussed with our own packing facilities on site, so we are further down the supply chain and we’re involved with a lot of high value, high risk, sometimes high return crops,” he said.

“The business here is trying to add as much value as possible to its produce before it leaves the farm and that is incredibly challenging at the moment.”

Jamie says that the pandemic has affected businesses such as Frederick Hiam, with the closure of pubs, restaurants and schools meaning they have had to react quickly and source new markets for produce destined for the food service sector.

irrigating in Suffolk

Water availability is another crucial issue facing Norfolk farmers and growers. Jamie is former chair of Norfolk abstractor group BAWAG, where he worked with the NFU to support licence holders threatened with losing irrigation licences in the Norfolk Broads.

“All we’re looking for is a fair share of what is an incredibly valuable resource. We need time to adapt to any changes that are made but there are parts of the county that are facing a tumultuous time, where they are being told they could possibly lose licences within months,” he said.

“The implications that has for their businesses are unthinkable so we need to lobby hard to try and find ways through. We need to do things differently in terms of water management but that isn’t going to happen overnight and we need time to adjust.”

Other issues include helping farm businesses adjust to reductions in direct support payments, as the Basic Payment Scheme is phased out, and the loss of active ingredients to protect crops such as oilseed rape and sugar beet from pests and diseases.

“It’s a concern about how we help farms transition through what is an incredibly volatile time at the moment, and the NFU will have a very important role to play,” said Jamie.

“I haven’t really got involved at branch level before, but I have always been hugely supportive of the NFU, what it stands for and the lobbying power it has representing British farms. When outgoing chair Nick Deane asked me to take over I was a little surprised but he has been very supportive and has eased me into the role.

“We’re very fortunate to have Minette Batters as president and all of the national officeholder team are very strong and very proactive so I felt it was an exciting time to be part of the NFU and to do whatever I can to help represent Norfolk farmers. I am looking forward to working closely with county vice chair Tim Papworth over the next two years.”

Jamie says the strong public support there is for farming will also be important in the years ahead, but must not be taken for granted.

“We need to have an open conversation with our customer base, the public, and make sure we are engaging with them at all levels,” he said.

“It’s at times like the recent cold spell, when Norfolk was covered with snow, that farmers prove their worth. It’s been refreshing to see people expressing their gratitude for what they are describing as the fourth emergency service. It’s great to see that recognition.”

Jamie is married to Becky and they have two children, 18 year old Sam, who is about to start working with Jamie, and 16 year old Katie.

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