In 1972, a man had a container full of screws which he decided to package up in small lots and sell to farmers.

So successful was this venture, he bought more containers of screws and repeated the operation. On this was founded Screwfix, which, at one point, was opening a new store every week.

Some 29 years later, he sold the company for £90m and his two sons went on to found Tool Station.

The only other one-generational family business success that I know of is Yeo Valley. Mary Mead was a farmer’s daughter from Somerset, working in London as a nurse.

She met Roger, who was an engineer, and they moved back to Somerset, farming in their own right.

Roger, having come from outside farming, could think outside the box and decided to add value to their products. Mary once told me he would sit night after night in a deckchair in an old chicken shed, watching dustbins full of yoghurt bubbling away.


Unfortunately, Roger suffered a tragic tractor accident and Mary was left with her son Tim to run the farm. Today, Yeo Valley has become a household name and Mary is one of three finalists in the Holstein lifetime achievement awards, having always been a great advocate for British Friesians.

First Milk has now organised a contract with Yeo Valley to supply non-organic milk and is recruiting throughout the southwest.

This has been called the 'Naturally Better Dairy Group' and is based on regenerative farming. I have been fortunate enough to join.

This contract will provide up to 2.89p premium if you tick all the boxes.

This is wonderful news and you just wonder how many more white rabbits pocket rocket First Milk CEO Shelagh Hancock can pull out of the hat.

Short supply

Since milk supply is going short nationally and internationally, other processors may be tempted to match this premium to retain suppliers, so Yeo Valley may find they increase the premium.

At the end of the day, they are getting a good deal, since this is helping them to get to net zero with the use of members’ carbon credits.

I imagine that those who can tick the boxes easily will readily join, but those who can’t tick enough boxes may be reluctant to borrow money to invest to meet the standards, given we still have a volatile milk price.

I often envy the Canadian quota system which is based on consumption, rather than the old method that was forced on us, based on production minus 20%. This failed to achieve its objective, since we still had too much milk and, without a shortage, the milk price floundered. But that is history.

Premium contracts

Today, these premium contracts are very welcome, but the end buyer must realise that we are currently producing and rearing youngstock to produce milk in three years’ time without knowing what the end price will be and once a cow calves, you can’t turn off the tap.

So, basically, farmers are gamblers, gambling on the price that they will eventually receive will cover costs, but I do fear that the next generation is not so keen to chance their arm in an industry of continued uncertainty.

Youngsters looking for a career in agriculture are in the main reluctant to commit themselves to a life of 24/7, but I still believe that those who commit themselves will be rewarded and, after all, a farm is a wonderful place to bring up your children and grandchildren.