Monday, 10 February 2014

Letter to stakeholders

Dear stakeholders,

Oh, this isn’t for me you are thinking, they must have copied the wrong thing into their blog.  Well, if you are one of “Our Mates”, then as we see it you have a stake in the farm, so you are our stakeholders.

I haven’t done one of these for a couple of years so please be patient…tongue is firmly in cheek…. OK here we go.

Since starting Our Mates’ Farm in November we have experienced a number of challenges as well as identified a number of potential sources of revenue (and fun) for future years.  The challenges that we have faced have stemmed largely from due diligence questions that were never fully answered in the acquisition process.  The main challenge, and quite frankly, disappointment, of the year to date is that Our Mates’ Farm will not be experiencing a bumper apple crop this year.  As stakeholders I am sure you will be well aware that weather conditions have combined to produce a stellar environment for apple growing, and be expecting great results and lots of work this picking season from us.  Unfortunately the neglected condition of the trees has led them to a biennial production state, and as a result we will miss out on the potential gains that this year’s weather conditions could have provided.  This biennial situation means that with careful orchard management and husbandry next year’s crop has the potential to be phenomenal, as we attempt to return the trees to annual production.  Whether weather conditions and prices will align to yield a profit for the coming year’s expected cropping remains to be seen.

The other challenges that we are facing, and are dealing with on your behalf, are related to infrastructure.  Our repairs to the irrigation pump and system are yielding benefits, and water continues to be supplied to the trees we plan to pick this year and keep for next year.  We have recently installed a large 24,000 litre reservoir tank at the top of the property and will soon connect it to our water infrastructure, allowing us to use the existing pipework to gravity feed water to every corner of the property with the turn of a tap.

The fencing of the property remains a challenge, with fences on all four sides of the property proving porous to wildlife, and occasionally Princess.  We know that adding quality fencing will improve the value of our farm, and we have therefore arranged for new fences to be installed in April.  Clearing the existing, overgrown fence lines is a challenging and time-consuming task, and the installation of new fences will be expensive, however we believe you will see the benefits of the investment when you come for a stakeholder site-visit.

The challenge posed by the sheep situation will soon be resolved, with the surplus assets disposed of and profits reinvested into ongoing activities.  All members of the Wiltshire division will be retained, with the exception of one member who is “looking tasty”.  The decision on whether or not to send kaBob to “Disneyland” is still under discussion and stakeholder opinions on this will be sought closer to the time.

In relation to the potential future revenue streams, we have been in close consultation with our apple customer in relation to identifying which varieties of both eating and cider apple would most align with their future ambitions.  The current plan is to graft up to 3 blocks of trees to desirable eating varieties this winter, and graft a number of trees in the blocks with larger rootstock to cider varieties.  A testing program on the success or otherwise of the cider grafts will determine the rollout of these varieties over the balance of the large rootstock trees over the coming years.  In the meantime efforts will be made to return the trees not being removed to annual production.  A holistic, organic program of pest management is currently being developed.

We have identified a number of potential uses for the trees we are removing, including high-value woodchips, however as commercially-sensitive negotiations are currently underway in this segment we cannot provide further specifics without compromising our first mover competitive advantage.

The livestock business is still in a fledgling stage, with our first lowline Black Angus calves expected in March, and our first litter of piglets expected the same month.  Once trees are removed work will have to be undertaken to level paddocks from their current undulating form which is suited for apple trees.  Until hay production is required this is not a pressing concern.  We have an inventory of 80 bales of hay purchased for spring as an insurance policy against our grass.  This policy had a very low purchase cost.

There are also a number of potential side-businesses that require investigation, including, but not limited to:
 Egg production (we are waiting on the response of the bureaucrats in relation to the stamping question)
- Market gardening
- Accommodation
- Aquaculture (provided we can figure out how to stop cormorants eating the trout)

Finally, to staffing issues.  We have added two WWOOFers who are proving very useful in helping us tackle our challenges.  They are staying in the guest bedroom and Coreen is doing her best to “feed them up”.  Coreen will be leaving the farm on maternity leave in June, however we look forward to bringing our little one into the fold and getting them working for you all just as soon as we can.

Thank you all for your continued interest in Our Mates’ Farm, and with your ongoing support and assistance we can deal with the challenges we face and make our stewardship a shining example for others to follow.

The trench to connect our water tank to the orchard irrigation

Matt, Scott and Hannah (the WWOOFers) work on getting crushed rock out for the tank base

Tank is in place!

Blackberries are coming on!

New life on the farm

Some time for fishing (but no fish!)

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