Next up on Follow a Farmer is Cesca Beswick from Cheshire. Cesca is a 5th generation farmer with a penchant for graphic design, a good selfie and, for some unknown reason, Sale Sharks. I hope you enjoy!
James: What’s your farming background?
Cesca Beswick: I’m a dairy farmers daughter, originally from Staffordshire where I was born on a dairy, sheep and potato farm. My dad died and my mum re-married, which saw me move to Cheshire to a dairy farm. I’ve been lucky to grow up around livestock my whole life, and always been given the freedom to get involved as much or little as I wanted to.
J: You say there was no pressure put on you to be involved in the farm. Did you always want to be a farmer?
C: Good question! I knew the farm would be there as an opportunity for me to farm, especially as my brother has zero farming interest. But, education was something my parents encouraged and they saw that my creative side was something that should be nurtured and I went off to university to study product design and then ended up as a digital marketing consultant for 4 years. Working in a whole new industry was great, I learnt a hell of a lot about economics, finance and business. It was a scary decision for me when I decided to work in agriculture full-time, and not a decision I took lightly.
J: How did that decision come about? Was it something your family raised or did the time just feel right?
C: I moved back home from Bedfordshire in the June/July, and my company at the time allowed me to work from the farm until September. From the moment I moved home I started helping every day, just small things like scraping out or feeding out. A local farmer caught wind that I was home and asked me to go TB test her herd of pedigree Shorthorns. That day I met another local farmer who was moving from a conventional milking parlour to robots and had lost her farm worker, she asked me to go for an interview. So I went along, had a chat and she had already seen me around cattle, so offered me a couple of days a week. So now I work at home and on a robotic organic dairy farm. If you’d have said 12 months ago I’d be a self-employed herdswoman I’d have told you ‘you’re lying’!
J: How much have you benefited from your off farm experience helped since moving home?
C: Loads. When it comes to livestock management, I’m clued up and can work well with them, whatever the situation. Going off farm means you meet different people, and it was only the other day when I was out that a farmer tapped me on the shoulder and said “I need your help tomorrow, 8am sharp”. So I turned up, helped him worm a herd of beef cattle and it turns out he’s a classifier for the Holstein society, a great contact for me as I’ve learnt a whole lot about classifying. This spring I’ve been asked to go and help during lambing time on a farm with 2,500 head of Texels. I also feel very lucky to be working on a robotic dairy farm, technology will only get better in Agriculture so I feel privileged to learn now, rather than later, ahead of the curve and all that!
J: Your marketing experience must be a big boost too?
C: Yeah, it’s a massive help, and in a few ways to be honest. The first is with my flock of sheep. I researched what customers wanted when they bought lamb from the butchers/supermarket to give me an idea of what breed to buy. It’s also helped me with marketing the lamb when I sell them for boxed meat. The other way it’s helped me is one of the farms I work on previously worked elsewhere herself before taking on the family farm, and we both have very business minds, so it’s helped me gain extra employment in a way.
J: What made you decide to sell direct to the public?
C: During university I was a supervisor of a local pub and made a network of contacts/acquaintances who said they’d always be interested in buying local meat/produce, and my friends always ask to buy eggs/beef from us. This summer I started selling our eggs by putting an advert on Facebook, it was a hit, especially as the hens we have were ex-battery and now roam freely, customers love to know that. So naturally the lamb sold well to that customer base. Within 48 hours I was out of lamb and have a waiting list for my next batch!
J: That’s really great to see. Do you think that more farmers could turn to selling direct to the public in the future? The supermarkets have such a tight hold on the food industry, especially here in the UK now, but it does seem people are more interested in where their food comes from since the horse meat scandal a few years ago
C: I don’t see why more farmers couldn’t. Though I’d imagine finding enough customers when you’re producing hundreds of lambs at a time would be a challenge! That or looking at supplying a local butchers, which is something I am now looking at and am in conversation with a butchers which is around half a mile away. With Brexit around the corner I think marketing ourselves and differentiating our produce is something we really need to concentrate on and listening to what the consumer wants is something else that we need to concentrate on.
J: We’ve stumbled upon challenges there, so it seems the right time to ask this one. What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in farming so far?
C: That’s a really hard question, anyone who knows me will know I never see a challenge as a challenge, and battle on through no matter what. But I’d say my biggest challenge was getting opportunities, naturally I’m a reserved and quiet person, I have to force myself to ‘stand out from the crowd’ as it were. So I think my challenges come from my quiet personality. I don’t shout about things I’m doing or have done publicly, I tell my close friends/family and they say how proud of me they are or how well I’ve done. Maybe if I spoke about my achievements more I’d get further? But I don’t think I’m doing too badly without shouting about myself, so I’ll stick with what I’m doing currently
J: I’m very quiet in real life too so I understand how you feel. Im very shy until I get to know folk. That’s where I find blogging and writing and social media very helpful.
C: It’s a challenge isn’t it? Like I find social media and blogging great too because I feel like I can maybe edit it to read right etc. Whereas in real life I’m quiet and sometimes don’t get my point across in a good way because I don’t have time to think about it. And then people think you’re a numpty. I’m glad I’m not the only one like that!
J: Definitely. I think social media is a great thing for farming. There’s a real community feel amongst everyone and there’s plenty of folk there who can give you advice, you can bounce ideas off, share challenges and support each other. They’re there to keep you grounded too. How big a part does social media play for you?
C: Twitter for me is very much personal. I talk about what I’m up to, ask others questions to learn more and follow business accounts. I feel I want people to know me, and what I’m about. Maybe in the future I’ll use twitter as a way of selling lamb/eggs or finding extra work? Facebook is personal, but I do also put up the odd advertising post for my lamb/eggs. In a previous job I ran 75 social media accounts and that was all business/sales driven, I felt like a cold caller when I was posting rather than engaging with potential customers, and that doesn’t appeal for a personal level.
J: There are some fantastic farmers on social media, who are happy to answer questions and share their knowledge freely. Who are your biggest inspirations in farming?
C: My step-dad and uncle are both a big inspiration, they’re very switched on, humble, knowledgable and eager to help me where they can. My mum is a massive inspiration, she ran the family dairy farm after the death of my father and I find that strength to be something I want to take on myself. Plus the fact she is spot on with livestock, I’d say I’ve learnt my stockmanship mostly from my mum, and from my step-dad.
J: I can see why your Mum would be such an inspiration. I can’t even begin to imagine how hard it was taking on the farm at such a horrible time.
C: Definitely, I think in farming things will be tough, whether it be from finances or unfortunate events, but that can only make you more resilient. And learning from the older generations where you can is a great help, they had to work through wars, disease and recessions. I love listening to older gentlemen/women farmers, I have a great respect for them.