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Farming family look to the future

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By Fiona Reid
Farming family look to the future

A FAMILY are future-proofing their farm to ensure it remains fit for future generations.

Stephen and Helen Illingworth, of Howgillside Farm at Eaglesfield, are capitalising on renewables opportunities, grasping new technology and working towards the Net Zero Agenda.

Following a 20 year Farm Business Tenancy, the couple purchased the 380 acre business in 2014 and now run it with son Thomas.

The family are renowned breeders with well-established pedigree cattle and pedigree and commercial sheep enterprises.

But to finance their mixed farm, they sold their internationally recognised pedigree Limousin herd and four years ago established a free-range egg venture.

This egg production enterprise was the start of a new direction and their initial 32,000 chickens arrived while the country was battling the Beast from the East.

Now, the farm supplies free-range eggs directly to The Happy Egg Company and egg production is integral and a significant part of their income.

And they are embarking on another new journey, embracing AgTech to further streamline their business.

Currently the Illingworths are automating their production processes with a larger egg packing machine and a robotic palletizer. This significant investment will minimise labour costs.

They have also installed 20kw of solar panels on their hen sheds, with the hens benefitting from some of the energy collected and the rest going back onto the grid. This was a £20,000 investment but already there is a saving of £2800 on their annual electric bill, in addition to the revenues from export and feed-in tariffs.

Moreover, investment has also been made to combine their cattle slurry and hen manure and for storage to hold 1.5 million gallons, or 12 months output. Their new storage lagoon was installed on the farm in summer 2019, funded by an overdraft. It helps with carbon emissions as slurry can be put on to the fields at optimal times.

In addition, hen manure has also taken their fertiliser usage down 80 per cent, helping to further reduce their carbon footprint.

Stephen Illingworth said: “We are very proud of the way our livestock enterprise has evolved, but knew that in order to sustain our business for future generations, we would need to start embracing new technologies.

“Egg production has become such a key part of our business now – something we would never have imagined – and it is exciting to see this venture thrive.”

The next stage of their plan is to start rebuilding their pedigree Limousin herd.

Another major investment is the building of a new house for holiday lets. It will be made as eco-friendly as possible and includes air-sourced heating. They have been supported on their journey over the last few years by the Clydesdale Bank, now Virgin Money.

Relationship manager Helen Mitchell said: “The Illingworths have worked hard to plan for the future and have kept a keen eye on the key AgTech improvements needed to save money, reduce costs – and reduce carbon. It’s been so exciting to have been part of their journey, supporting them in growing and strengthening their business, and to see their farming enterprise continue going from strength to strength.”

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