With more than 35 years’ experience in the sector Richard Leach believes in conserving the traditional values of agricultural trade while embracing innovation that will help UK farmers gain the best returns by careful selection of variety and site location.
Work in the agricultural sector can offer freedoms the city or office-based worker doesn’t have. As a self-employed forage and crop specialist, Richard tells us he can set his own agenda and organise his own routine, which involves a lot of getting out and about. He has many loyal customers and visits their farms regularly, or at least he did before the pandemic.
As we have heard from other people involved with Brights, including David Bright, who set up the original Bright Seeds 30 years ago, Richard maintains that the key to success is maintaining the best possible customer service. In this industry, it’s important to develop a bond of trust between the supplier and farmer. This bond should be based on developing a reputation with the customer for being knowledgeable and applying common sense, and always being available on the end of a phone and able to make decisions quickly. It’s a question of being accessible to advise clients on the whole process, whether making the appropriate seed choice for the soil, feeding livestock, growing a cash-crop or a break-crop, planting, cultivation, harvest and after-care of the crop. “I like to think I have an excellent rapport with customers. You have to be knowledgeable and reliable. Those two factors are the key,” Richard tells us.
The main challenges centre around there not being enough hours in the day to get things done. Richard’s in a highly competitive field. He reckons loyalty is a crucial driver – loyalty that works both ways, so, for example, if a farmer orders the wrong seed or has a change of heart on a variety Richard will hitch up his trailer and go and exchange the seed. This sort of loyalty to the customer keeps them on board. 75% of his business is repeat business… customers who come back for more. The 25% of new business comes from personal recommendations or direct marketing from Richard. He says 25 direct phone calls to potential new clients may yield, say, 5 new customers.
The other challenge is area coverage. Richard’s business spans a wide geographical area. Much of it is in the West country, but he gets as far afield as Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Hampshire, Berkshire and even Sussex. He can often be out on the road visiting clients three or four days a week.
When asked about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on business, Richard again referred to the importance of loyalty, and trust: “Face-to-face meetings with customers have been ruled out during the lockdowns, but established customers have been happy to interact over the phone, discussing the results achieved from previous years and what can be done to perhaps improve outcomes.” Richard still prefers to meet new customers face-to-face, though. But he feels coronavirus has heightened the benefits of long-term relationships.
Richard sees seed treatments as the big challenge over the coming few years. Save for additional vigilance required in handling Korit dressed seed, the results have been very encouraging.
On the wider issue of seed treatment, he believes there are a number of the new generation seed treatments coming on board, which have been or are currently subject to trial. The picture emerging is one of seed treatments being a useful husbandry tool but not an outright solution, as has perhaps been the case in the past.
“It is in crop selection, rotation and management that the battle of disease and infestation will be won. If ever there was a day when those responsible for growing a crop could shut the gate for weeks at the time, that day has gone. The future is one that requires vigilance – watching the crop at each stage of development, and intervening when the occasion calls,” he says.
As happens with a lot of people working in agriculture, Richard didn’t come from a farming background. He grew up in the London suburbs. His father worked for Robert Maxwell in printing and advertising, but, having seen his dad commuting daily into London year after year, Richard decided he was going to break out, so he went to agricultural college before moving into the sector. He hasn’t looked back. As well as his work at Bright Maize, Richard also retains an involvement with Bright Seeds and a management role with WL Duffield & Sons Ltd in overseeing the sales and marketing of Keepers Choice Game Feeds. Agriculture has worked its way into his blood. Interests outside work include shooting, fishing – with a trip planned to Iceland in 2021, squash, badminton and tennis with family and friends. Several beehives are kept at home with any surplus revenue from honey sales going to MND Association.
Richard is optimistic about the effects Brexit could have on UK farming, and is excited about the government’s new proposals regarding public good, environmental recovery, cover crops and soil quality. The result is that farmers are being more proactive and for instance are looking at trying some tried and tested cover crop mixes. For the future, he would particularly like to see farmers be paid a realistic price for what they produce.