Investment in new technology usually means new equipment but in today’s era with the likes of satellite, Bluetooth, laptops and sensors taking up an increasing portion of overall spend, there can often appear to be a greater emphasis put on kit than on people.
Building a team and investing correctly in human technology, harnessing the brains and vitality of individuals to work together and take a business forward is just as important and that’s where one farming company in the East Riding is making significant strides.
Seven years ago Mark Tomlinson and David Burks set up Wholecrop Marketing to enable potato growers to sell the whole of their potato crop, finding markets for every grade of potato rather than growers having their loads ‘cherry-picked’ by buyers and being left with a tonnage that was difficult to market.
Their business, based near Kirkburn, was set up on the back of their combined industry knowledge, both having worked in the various sectors of the potato industry over many years.
They now employ nine full-time staff and half their team is 30 years old and under.
It’s an investment that the pair believes will take the company further forward.
“One of the facts of life is that our experience needs to be passed on,” says Mark.
“None of us will be around forever and succession is important. David and I realised that the average age of people within the potato industry is getting older and that we owed it to our farmer growers and customers to invest in younger people.
“All of our younger team come from farming families and have a strong work ethic as a result. We’re tapping into that next generation where sons and daughters of family farms are looking to stay in agriculture.”
Tom Coulthurst joined Mark and David six months after Wholecrop Marketing launched.
He’s a farmer’s son from West Halton in North Linconshire.
“I studied at Askham Bryan College and worked on a potato farm for six years,” he said.
“I’d initially thought I would end up as a farm manager somewhere as farming’s in my blood. I’d never thought I’d go into the potato world full-time but a colleague told me about the job here and with Mark and David’s support I’ve been able to put together my own career.
“I work closely with growers and customers. When I was working on the farm they were growing for McCain’s but it is a much bigger world here with so many potato varieties.
“We work across every potato market there is and storage requirements differ for each sector.”
Holly Nutt started with Wholecrop after two years with rural surveyors Cundalls in Malton. She’s a farmer’s daughter from near Scarborough where her father grows 250 acres of potatoes.
She said: “No two days are the same looking after my crisping accounts.
“One of the most important areas of my job is to ensure the potatoes we send to our buyers are right. Crispers have a very exact specification in size, fry colour and dry matter and the storage has to be spot on all the time.
“I wanted to be involved in a farming related business and developing relationships with growers and buyers of their produce was on my agenda regardless of the type of crop whether grain or roots.”
Emma Grantham is a farmer’s daughter from Fishlake, near Doncaster, and came to Wholecrop after studying at Leeds Metropolitan University: “With us all being from farming backgrounds I think that helps our farmer growers. We understand them and can relate to them.
“One of my roles is to provide samples for every load before it gets to the purchaser. It’s called vendor assurance and by sending the sample it prevents rejection of a load and makes the business far more efficient. What I also see is that here things are a lot more equal and not just numerically men to women.
“It’s not like women here are just being kept in doing office jobs. We’re out on farms dealing with the practical work.”
Holly believes Wholecrop is firmly on the right track with technology investment in young people.
She said: “We definitely have a presence in the industry and our trials day held every summer is now one of the main events in the potato calendar. We’re competing with businesses that have been around for many more years and I think we’re standing out well.”