Four generations of farming
North Yorkshire-based Metcalfe Farms has been in the same family for four generations, growing from a small dairy herd in 1940 into the area’s largest employer.
We spoke to one of the Managing Partners David Metcalfe about the importance of community, Barclays’ support during the dairy farming crisis – and how his family has pushed the business forward.
“It’s hard work being a farmer but equally it’s very rewarding and I wouldn’t want to do anything else.”
David Metcalfe is talking about the business, Metcalfe Farms, which was founded in 1940 by his grandfather, Frank Metcalfe. The 78 years since have seen exceptional growth for the business, based at Washfold Farm just outside Leyburn, North Yorkshire.
“My grandad had 18 cows and 120 acres,” says David. “We now farm 3200 acres, we have 1300 dairy cows, 1100 sheep and we employ 160 people. Back in my grandad’s day, it was just him.”
David runs the farm with his brothers David, Brian and Philip and parents John and Thora. Accrediting much of the farm’s success to his family’s hard work, David says: “There’ve been three brothers aligned in the same direction. We’ve not been frightened of pushing forward.”
Cows, sheep – and trucking
The business is now one of the largest employers in the area. In common with many farming operations, diversification has been one of the keys to its success. In addition to the farming business, Metcalfe Farms runs a heavy haulage business with 85 trucks covering the UK and Europe, and a vehicle repair business. “Our haulage businesses have certainly helped other local businesses because we are in a very rural area and because we’ve created something quite large and specialised,” says David.
Metcalfe Farms started banking with Barclays six years ago and David says the bank’s support has been integral to its growth. Recalling the dairy farming crisis – a period in 2015 when UK milk prices fell by 35% – David says: “Metcalfe Farms suffered when the milk price dropped but Barclays continued to support us and got us through that difficult period. I don’t know what we would have done if they hadn’t supported us.”
Tim Watson is the Relationship Director for Metcalfe Farms – a partnership David describes as “a step back to the olden days, with the old personalised years”. Reflecting on how he has helped the farm grow, Tim says: “It’s an exceptionally proud feeling to know that we’ve taken them from the embryonic stages of some of their plans right through to where they are today.” David agrees. “He understands our business, he takes time to talk to us and look around.”
Tim has worked with Barclays Agriculture for 11 years and says the bank brings its wealth of farming industry expertise to relationships with clients. “We’ve got quite a breadth of knowledge which we can bring to Metcalfe Farms and other clients alike.”
With the nearest town – Darlington – a 40-minute drive away, David says it’s important for the business to be “connected to the local community”. This year, Metcalfe has shown its support for local rugby clubs by sponsoring their shirts.
It is this same ethos of giving back to the community that brings David pride in his work: “It gives us lots of satisfaction to know that we’re producing food because at the end of the day people can’t manage without food. I believe it’s one of the most important industries in the world.”
The farming industry is constantly evolving, and Metcalfe has always responded, including with a fully automated rotary parlour, robotic feet pushers and an anaerobic digester. In the future, David hopes the farm will continue to evolve and expand. “Hopefully, in 30 years’ time, Metcalfe Farms is still here, the next generations are running it – and it’s still successful.”