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Farming Connect helps young couple expand their meat box range ahead of Christmas

Selling beef and lamb via meat boxes with guidance from a Farming Connect mentor is helping new entrants to livestock farming reap a premium price for their stock.

George Sturla and Holly Blockley run a flock of 100 Lleyn-cross ewes on land at Holywell, Flintshire, tupping the flock to home-bred Beltex rams.

They also have a herd of 12 Aberdeen Angus suckler cows, and are introducing Longhorn genetics for the first time this year to produce superior beef.

To increase the profit margin in their business, the couple have been selling lamb direct to consumers in meat boxes branded at Beeches Meats since October 2022.

“There had been several times when I would go to the mart and think the lambs should have made a better price than they did so we decided to have a go at direct sales,’’ George explains.

This proved to be very successful and they were keen to expand the business.

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They accessed the Farming Connect farmer to farmer mentoring service and were matched with Sam Pearson, a Welsh beef and dairy farmer whose key specialisms include direct sales and marketing.

Sam visited the couple at The Beeches and provided what George describes as “invaluable guidance and support.’’

“Sam has given us some excellent ideas to follow up and examples of other established businesses to research as we discussed with him how we could expand our range by including beef.’’

These mentoring conversations gave George and Hollie the confidence to go ahead with developing their direct meat sales business.

They report that sales have been very strong.

“People have been pre-ordering for their Christmas meal and we are starting to get customers from further afield, sending boxes recently to Peterborough and Cornwall, using wool to insulate the boxes to keep the meat cool,’’ says George.

Although he says he would have expanded the business without the mentoring, having input from someone with expertise in this area has helped to avoid pitfalls and to capitalise on sales.

“I think we would have given it a go ourselves but having Sam as a mentor has definitely given us confidence to go ahead with making these changes,’’ he says. 

Sam discussed options for websites and using social media and how to communicate with customers.

George has also used the Farming Connect Advisory Service to improve his practical farming skills too, attending Master Sheep and Master Grass courses, and he’s a member of a Farming Connect sheep discussion group.

“We are so lucky in Wales to have their service,’’ he says.

Although George didn’t grow up on a farm, his childhood summers were spent helping his grandfather and uncle on their farm in North Wales.

He later graduated from the Royal Agricultural College with a degree in Rural Land Management and worked at Strutt & Parker.

But he left his career in land management to work full time in agriculture, alongside a 
full time job as a sales representative for a livestock feed company.

George also secured a place on the 2023 Farming Connect Agri Academy Business & Innovation programme, which has further increased his knowledge and business confidence and formed an invaluable support network of like-minded young people.

The highlight was an overseas study visit to Ontario, where the group was given an insight into different farms and systems, ideas that George will implement in his own business going forward.

“We also visited a farm in Leicestershire that had 2,000 ewes and is selling all its lambs through its own butchery, I learned a huge amount from that visit.’’

Einir Davies, Head of Skills at Farming Connect said “it’s great to see George and Holly accessing so much of what Farming Connect has to offer, as are many other entrepreneurial young business owners, who are keen to find their niche and make their mark”.

Farming Connect is dedicated to supporting the next generation in Welsh agriculture and offers a bespoke package of support to give them the skills, networks and confidence to succeed in their business and career goals.

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