Succession in farming is of paramount importance to Cumbria’s NFU North West Poultry Board representative Mark Forster. Here he explains how he doesn’t just talk the talk, but also really walks the walk – giving up his 100% control of the business.
Succession is vitally important Cumbrian broiler producer Mark Forster announces as he walks into his kitchen to talk to NFU North West's Communications Adviser Carl Hudspith about his career and role at the NFU.
Laughing to himself, he proudly informs me he no longer has 100% control over his business having given 30% to his son Christopher, 30% to wife Louise, 10% to daughter Sarah and retaining 30% for himself.
Mark, 51, said: “I can now be outvoted and don’t have ultimate power anymore. I’ve officially handed over control. It’s not a token gesture. I have to compromise.
“My father never interfered with how I ran the business and my lad wants to run both of our farms as a production manager. They’ve already bought me a wagon to keep me out of the way. It’s a good job I’ve always loved haulage”
The Forster family owns Beaverlodge Poultry Farm and Greengill Foot Farm, which are both near to Penrith. Today there is capacity for 336,000 broilers at Greengill Foot and capacity for 396,000 broilers at Beaverlodge.
“Our industry has 40 year olds who are not allowed to sign a cheque because their fathers won’t allow them to. You have to let the next generation do it their way and harness their enthusiasm. Mistakes will be made but you cannot sit in the shadows telling them what to do all of the time. They’ll leave the business.”
Mark’s father was a farm labourer who at the age of 17 travelled to Canada to work in the uranium and gold mines of Nova Scotia.
Mark explained: “The average pay in this country at the time was £5 a week. The Canadians were paying £100 per week because it was such dangerous work. He did it because he wanted to buy his own farm. He worked for the Beaverlodge Mining Company which is where our first farm’s name derives from.”
However, when Mark’s father returned to Cumbria, he still didn’t have sufficient funds to buy a farm, so he purchased Beacon Dairy milk processing unit instead. As a home, his father bought 30 acres of land at Maidenhill in Penrith but required a reason to live there. One of his father’s best friends was a poultry farmer so the pair decided to build a chicken shed at the site in 1974 which Mark’s mother could look after.
Four years later the family bought Greengill Farm which came with 82 acres. The intention was to go into dairying but the introduction of quotas put paid to that idea.
Instead, five small poultry sheds were constructed at Beaverlodge and six sheds were built at Greengill Farm in 1986. By 1990, six more sheds were constructed at Beaverlodge and in 1993 another 6 sheds appeared at Greengill.
In 1997, the single sheds were knocked down and replaced by the double sheds used today.
Mark has been married to Louise for 30 years and they have two children together – Sarah (29) and Christopher (27). Mark and Louise have three grandchildren – Dylan (10), Brendan (8) and Jake (2) and another on the way at the time of writing.
All of the chicken Mark produces is now sold to Chesterfield Poultry which is owned by the Iqbal family. Most of the chicken meat he produces ends up in the catering sector.