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I FIRST became involved with the commercial side of the agricultural industry back in 1974 and my first understatement of the day has to be that the industry as I knew it back then bears absolutely no relationship whatsoever to the one we see today.

Some months ago, I suggested that over the last 35 years, 70 companies within the circulation area of the Southwest Farmer had been lost through a combination of liquidation and takeover, but also during that period of time, opportunities had presented themselves to the entrepreneurs of this world and that several new companies had been “born’’ – and this month, I would like to introduce you to a husband and wife team who, only four years ago, took up the challenge and decided to “go it alone’’ – and guess what – they’ve never looked back.

Mike and Carol Hawken, together with their daughter Laura and son Alex, felt that the way forward was to offer their farmer customers in the West Cornwall area, a service that was second to none. Although still a mere ‘youngster’, Mike has been in the industry for over 25 years, 15 of which he specialized in molasses, blocks and supplements. However, as the years progressed and companies started to disappear, Mike became increasingly concerned over the way big companies were apparently getting bigger with the smaller companies virtually disappearing altogether. Conversations with his customer base suggested that they, too, were becoming concerned – concerned that the “personal touch’’ of old was no longer there and that probably, one of the key issues within our industry had also started to suffer – service. Lets face it folks, whilst I would be one of the first to acknowledge that you do a quite wonderful job as farmers, you could not actually claim to be at the top of the tree where planning is concerned. Your planning, on the whole, tends to be on a daily basis and when you decide to do something, which, as a result, you need a particular product, getting that product to you and on time, is absolutely vital. The Hawkens identified this situation as a golden opportunity to set up on their own. Responding to an in built challenge and encouraged by local farmers, the family decided to give it a go and in January 2006, Mike Hawken Agriculture Ltd was formed.

They initially supplied just compound feeds, molasses and supplements, but as time went on and their customer base grew, demand for additional products increased and they now have a thriving business which includes equine products, foliar feeds, fertilizers, herbage and cereal seeds.

The personal touch and service of both Mike and Carol is fully complemented by a sound technical back-up – a typical example being the recent employment of Duncan Alan – a Dairy Hygiene Technician who lives in Torrington, North Devon and covers the whole of Devon and Cornwall, where he works closely with dairy hygiene manufacturers Accsol/Hypred. Other manufacturing companies that work extremely closely with the business includes Quality Liquid Feeds (QLF), equine feed suppliers Falcon Feeds, minerals and fat suppliers Optivite and last, but certainly not least, is compound feed manufacturers Crediton Milling. The nutritional input on any commercial livestock farm is of vital importance – this being recognized at the outset by both Mike Hawken and Crediton Milling. Although the annual feed bill is usually the biggest account that the farmer has – at least for the dairy farmer – these two companies are both of the opinion that they should be supplying a feed that is complementary to the home grown forage that you the farmer produces throughout the main growing season – the quality and quantity of which varies with every customer and most years. In a warm and sunny season, the quality of grass, maize and cereals will always improve, but in a colder and wetter summer such as 2008, the quality will always suffer – but yields will invariably be high due to the wet conditions. On-going checks on clamp quality and individual cow performance with appropriate tweaks on bought in feeds, will ensure that the herd is always producing towards maximum efficiency. This type of nutritional and technical back-up really does typify the service that these two companies offer their customer base.

Mike has only just completed negotiations regarding his fertilizer supplies for the future and as a result, he has landed a unique opportunity with Bunns Fertilizers, where he will be acting as their main agent and will be offering a portfolio of straight ‘N’ and a full range of blended compounds and will be drawing product direct from Falmouth docks.

Since setting up their business just four and a half years ago, the Hawkens purchased Providence Farm, Castle-an-Dinas, St. Columb in November 2008, where they now offer a cash and carry store. The store carries all the major items on a farmers shopping list, is open six days a week and is where Carol can be found on a regular basis where she has face to face contact with those people visiting the store.

Mike continues to specialize in supplementary nutrition but over a much wider area now. Enthusiasm and word of mouth has meant that Mike Hawken Agriculture Ltd is now successfully trading across Devon and Cornwall and judging by the number of farmers from both counties who visited his stand throughout the Royal Cornwall Show last week, the popularity and esteem that this family team are held was quite obvious.

Both Mike and Carol fully appreciate their ever increasing customer base and also acknowledge that without them, they just would not have a business. Mike, said: “I am just grateful that our customers trusted us in the first place to give them a service of which we could all be proud. They have supported us from day one and we will reciprocate by offering them a first class service with excellent value for money.”

Footnote: It was football, and several years ago at that, that gave Mike and me the opportunity to first meet up – long before age and arthritis overtook me – even back in the days when I had hair so you’ve got a pretty good idea it was a year or two ago. There are 23 people on the field of play – 22 players plus a referee. Yes, you’ve guessed it – we were the b…..rds in the black – but Mike was always a much better referee than me – he was a good “b….rd’’!!