Adrian Townsend, managing partner and founder of Waipu-based Durham Farms, talks sustainable farming, turning Covid risks into opportunity and why his business is poised to acquire more land throughout the country.
What does your business do?
Durham Farms, named after the family that owned the land more than 100 years ago, is a food supply chain that started on our farm in Waipū. It was founded in 2014 and me and my business partner William Watts oversee the day-to-day operations and growth with active involvement from our two families. We run a certified organic mixed farming operation – raising animals and crops together – covering dairy, beef, horticulture, chickens, eggs and honey. We also have a luxury glamping site that allows our guests to be connected to our farm and the surrounding nature.
On our 340ha farm in Waipū, we have a dairy herd of about 240 Jerseys and Friesians, a prime beef herd of just over 60 Angus cattle, more than 2000 egg-laying, pasture-fed chickens in mobile homes, almost 100 bee hives, and more than 3ha of horticultural veggie gardens, orchards and olive groves. Since 2018, we have expanded and purchased a micro-abattoir and butchery in Whangārei, plus an additional farm of 360ha in Kaeo. This allows us to keep our key operations in-house and reduces our reliance on brought-in resources. Effectively making a closed-loop system.
Under our brand, we produce organic A2 whole milk in returnable glass bottles, a range of beef products, eggs, honey, relishes and a number of horticultural products including gourmet salads and micro greens. One of our income streams is supplying cafes and restaurants with our milk in 10-litre returnable pails.
What was the motivation for starting the business?
Myself, my business partner and my wife, when we came over here from the UK, we felt we could help make a difference to food production. We've always had a healthy outlook on eating properly and we saw a gap in the market in New Zealand, back in 2011, to produce food of a top quality that was also prioritising looking after the environment as well while making a profit. You don't normally hear those three things together.
The turning point for me was when I went to Auckland restaurant and the waiter said there was no New Zealand beef available and I said 'Why not' and he said 'We can't guarantee the quality, but I've got some good Australian beef' and it really made me think why can't we access our own produce in our own country.
How big is your team?
We are growing at a steady pace and with more than 20 staff and now supply almost 40 retailers, cafes and restaurants – from retailers such as Scarecrow, to chef Peter Gordon at Homeland restaurant. We currently distribute our products from The Bay of Islands through to Auckland, Cambridge and Waiheke Island. We've grown the team through Covid, from about six to people to now 20.
How did you fund your business?
We have self-funded our growth to date and are looking to create a hub of 2500ha of food production in Northland and replicate additional hubs throughout the country. We're also looking to grow the business with other like-minded farmers and growers. To expedite this growth, we will look to capital raise.
What are you focused on for the next three months?
We're launching our home delivery service in June and that will allow us to deliver a box of goods to our customers in Northland and Auckland. We have also created a collective of like-minded farmers and growers, northlandprime.com, that allows us to fairly represent and bring to the market the delicious food that Northland can offer. And we're looking to grow our existing hub in Northland from 800ha to 2500ha.
What are your long-term plans?
Our vision is to make our mixed farming approach the norm in New Zealand, not the exception, as this will allow New Zealand to truly produce food sustainably. To achieve this, we believe food supply has to be profitable, provide worthwhile careers and produce great quality, affordable food, underpinned by enabling the natural environment to thrive.
We have a 500-year business plan as we believe in a long-term vision that combines food production and the environment. Farming should be part of the eco-system as we need nature to farm sustainably, looking after our soils and waterways. We will grow to 2500ha in the next three years and hope to have a similar hub in the Waikato region or the middle of the North Island and then similarly in the lower half of the South Island.
What's been the biggest challenge you've had to overcome in the past 12 months?
Adapting quickly to change and the curveball of Covid. We are lucky in the sense because we have multiple revenue streams, if one area of the market isn't doing so well we have other areas to focus on. The biggest risk to us was Covid, but we turned it into an opportunity with our home delivery.
What advice do you give others wanting to start their own business?
There's three key things to get right: people, processes and your communications. If you get those three batons down, that underpins a good company.