Business management

Jilly Greed, Fortescue Farming

As part of our campaign with Getty Images to change the image of female founders, the owner of Devon-based Fortescue Farming tells her business story.

The learning curve was vertical, but we succeeded despite many challenges through a lot determination and dogged hard work

As she explains, they are “regenerative farmers”, working in a nature-friendly production system where the soil, worms and fungi are protected and enhanced by cover crops, manure from the suckler beef herd and a no-ploughing policy.

“As well as producing nutrient-rich beef, the cows and calves graze the river meadows and arable cover crops in a mob-grazing system where they are moved to lush new grazing every day, replicating the roaming buffalo herds of the US prairies,” says Greed. “We are now going the extra mile and becoming an organic regenerative farm.”

Greed remembers wanting to farm from an early age, but she wasn’t considered her father’s successor in the family business. However, when her father became seriously ill, she took over.

That was 24 years ago. “The learning curve was vertical, but we succeeded despite many challenges through a lot determination and dogged hard work,” she explains.

Never give up the ambition of running your own business – it’s enormously rewarding, not simply financially but as a personal achievement

Jilly Greed
Owner of Fortescue Farming

As well as running the farm, Greed co-founded Ladies In Beef with Minette Batters, who is now the president of the National Farmers’ Union. It’s a group of female beef producers who champion Great British Beef Week. Ladies in Beef celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2020.

Greed is also a co-founder of the recently formed Suckler Beef Producers Association, which promotes a natural beef production system where calves suckle on their mothers for six to eight months at grass pasture. “Mob-grazed suckler beef is integral to the regenerative agriculture movement,” she explains, “which is gaining recognition across the globe as a means of helping to mitigate climate change by restoring soil’s organic carbon, increasing carbon absorption from the atmosphere.”

Despite the coronavirus pandemic, Greed says 2020 was generally consistent for the farm, from planting to harvesting to calving and turnout. The difference, she adds, was farming in an integrated regenerative system. “It’s hugely rewarding to see species recovery, including owls, hares, hedgehogs, small mammals, birds, honeybees and butterflies, as a result of the increase in food and protective habitats for wildlife.”

Greed says the opportunity to buy the farm has to be her standout business moment so far. She recalls: “I took over the farm as the first succession tenant in 1999. In 2004, the owners decided to sell and we were given the opportunity to buy the farm with the help of a very large borrowing from NatWest, with whom we have banked for over 30 years. Without their support, it would not have been possible. Indeed, the bank is supporting our most recent diversification creating contemporary rural offices from redundant traditional cattle barns.”

For other women thinking of starting out on their own, Greed says: “Never give up the ambition of running your own business – it’s enormously rewarding, not simply financially but as a personal achievement. Sometimes compromise is necessary along the way but there is always a way through - hard work and determination always win.”

She describes herself as “hugely honoured” to be featured in the bank and Getty Images’ Female Focus #BeTheRoleModel initiative. “It’s so important for the farming voice to be heard in a period of immense change, particularly the huge challenges and opportunities stemming from the new UK Agriculture Act, the largest shakeup of British farming for 50 years.”

Jilly Greed of Fortescue Farming continued to trade throughout a challenging 2020. She witnessed the direct rewards of farming in an integrated regenerative system, including the recovery of local populations of bees, hares and owls.

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