AF Changemaker: smarter procurement is part of the bigger picture

“I am Robert Childerhouse, Estate Director at the Mulgrave Estate.

“Mulgrave Estate is in North Yorkshire. It’s 15,000 acres with residential, commercial and agricultural properties, including 45 let farms.  Our own in-hand home farm is about 2,500 acres and our forestry business covers about 2,000 acres.”


What changes have you made?

“With several tenant farmers on the estate and as they retire or tenancies naturally come to an end, we are reorganising our farms to make them bigger and more sustainable. Sometimes it means land coming back to our own farm to grow that business as well.

“From my experience, every estate or every farmer has land that’s marginal or not suitable for agricultural production. Across our 15,000 acres we’ve got lots of areas that would be much better suited for other uses. For example on land that’s very wet we’ve created a number of new wetland habitats.

“We have two tenants retiring this. Our plan is to create a ew 250 acre woodland across the two neighbouring farms.  Both are poor, marginal farms, with lots of bracken, scrub and gorse: they don’t want to be farms anymore, they are naturally trying to revert to woodland again. So we are just helping them on their way. The project is very much inline with our own green aspirations and those of government too, so hopefully everyone will be happy.”


What are the results of the changes?

“Farming and rural life is changing. As an estate we have embraced the Stewardship way of life. We probably have a dozen or more agreements running across our home farm forestry and woodland.

“Our Home Farm is ideal for stewardship, conservation, and the amount of wild bird, pollen and nectar or bumble bee mixes we have are equal to 150 Premier League football pitches. We take smaller fields, awkward corners and less productive areas out of production and enter them into these schemes and get paid for our arable margins for game. Now we think that makes us Championship players!

“The funding also helps us do things we weren’t doing before. We have a full-time wildlife ranger to control deer, squirrels and other vermin in our woodlands to improve tree health.  We wouldn’t have been able to do that without the funding to help pay for it.”


How has AF helped?

“When I came to the estate nearly 7 years ago now, we had no real policy or method for procurement.  As I had used AF before, Mulgrave joined up and AF’s Jane Ritchie came to see us. Over the last 6 years we buy more and more through AF.  They do all the ringing around to get quotes which saves doing it ourselves. 

“We are making huge savings on fuel and we get through a lot – heating oil as well as tractor diesel and white diesel. We know AF’s procured the best price and even when we have done a little test ourselves, AF are always able to get better prices than we can. 

“We get many of our farm inputs and estate equipment through AF. Being part of a group we can benefit from a bulk discount because of the sheer quantity of orders AF are placing. 

“My secretary can order through AF without having to ring around 3 or more places to try and get the best quote.

“And from an accounting point of view, we get one direct debit once a month with all the spend on it, so there are a lot less transactions going through our accounts department which saves them time as well.”


What is next?

“For the first of two new woodland projects starting this autumn we’ll need to order a million trees and planting materials, where AF can help.

“As we continue our farming reorganisation, making our own farm bigger and more sustainable, and making tenants’ farms bigger where we can, we look forward to working with AF as an Estate community, marching forward into the future.”