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Elveden Farms director leaves to launch new Team Ag venture

After almost 30 years leading one of East Anglia's biggest food growers, Elveden Estate farms director Andrew Francis has launched a new venture to help tackle his industry's future challenges.

Andrew Francis has come a long way from the young boy who stood in his garden in Nazeing, Essex, watching the tractors and combine harvesters working behind his house.

From helping on that small farm as a teenager, he entered the industry as a first-generation farmer and has since spent 29 years working on the 22,500-acre Elveden Estate near Thetford - which includes of the largest single farm units in lowland Britain.

Now the experienced farms director has left the estate to help other growers tackle some of the major challenges ahead by launching a new company, TEAM Ag (UK) Ltd.

The acronym stands for Transformational Estate and Agricultural Management and its ethos is to find ways to build long-term resilience in food production and environmental systems.

Mr Francis will be working with Kiryon Skippen and Jason Noy in the new venture.

“It’s about thinking differently," he said. "The analogy I use a lot is rented headspace. It’s about outsourcing problems for estates and farms or anyone involved in the supply chain, who can effectively rent our headspace.

“They will be accessing all the tools that sit behind us. The three of us have some very good networks but also a pool of 21 experts to call on for projects that require specialist input.

“We’re about managing the thought process and bringing people together to solve problems. It’s a bit like conducting the orchestra, to a degree, and coming up with options and solutions."

After getting the farming bug as a child, Mr Francis studied agriculture at Writtle College in Essex, and worked on farms near Brighton and Shenfield before landing the job of foreman at Elveden in January 1994.

He became vegetable production manager in 1997 as the estate expanded its production of potatoes, onions, carrots and parsnips, and in 2010 he became senior farm manager as Elveden established two specialist marketing businesses, Garden of Elveden and Elveden Produce.

Their success saw the business renting additional land to grow crops, farming around 19,000 acres in total and doubling Mr Francis' portfolio under his new role of farms director.

“My farming ethos has stayed the same throughout in terms of continually challenging what we’re doing, trying to understand what we’re doing through the use of capturing data, and interrogating that data and using it to find ways of trialling different things,” he said.

The desire to ensure crop management decisions are informed has involved many crop trials on the farm, including through the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board's "SPot farm" programme. Elveden is also a LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming) demonstration farm and a Flagship Farm for fast-food giant McDonald’s.

During his time at Elveden, Mr Francis sat on groups including the LEAF Marque technical advisory committee and Breckland Farmers Wildlife Network, as well as representing the National Farmers' Union on many groups.

“Any opportunity there is to broaden your understanding and learning, you have to take it, and encourage those around you to take it as well. There’s no point in improving your own skills if you leave others behind,” he said.

He now wants to take everything he has learned to help others navigate their businesses through the challenges ahead.

“My thoughts have consolidated recently on how to solve the big challenges our industry faces in building a fit-for-purpose food production and environmentally-sustainable system that can be taken forward by the next generation,” he said.

“This isn’t about managing farm businesses, it’s about finding ways of working that can be implemented by everyone, developing frameworks – identify the goal, the tools you need to get there, and try and bring the instruction manual for the tools.

“It’s a chance to reboot and the adrenalin is definitely flowing again. I’m fully motivated to give this absolutely everything because I believe in it really strongly and others do as well.

"It’s grown very quickly but we’re very minded that we need to deliver value.”

Nicholas Scantlebury is taking on the role of senior farms manager at Elveden, with Mr Francis still helping the transition to the new management structure and working on specialist projects for the estate.

He added: “Working at Elveden has given me a fantastic opportunity to go from someone on a council estate with zero farming experience to the position of farm director.

"It takes a huge amount of trust on your managers’ behalf and I’m very grateful for those opportunities.

“When you look back at the archives and the books that have been written, it’s nice to have hopefully had a positive influence on the long history of the estate and the business."


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