John Geldard

John Geldard is as synonymous to farming as hills are in the Lake District. Brought up on a dairy farm, farming is quite literally in his blood and his career has been punctuated with success, challenges and opportunities which he has grabbed with much gusto and determination.

He began his career more than 40 years ago after securing a tenancy with his wife Rachel on a Lake District National Trust tenanted hill farm. They went on to develop a mixed farming business near Levens, in Kendal, Cumbria – one which was totally built from scratch.

Over the past 28 years Low Foulshaw Farm has been completely rebuilt, now running across 530 acres comprising 1,000-sheep and 150 Stabiliser cows.

The family-owned business today employs 25 staff, and features a beef, sheep and a layer enterprise, together with Plumgarths Farm Shop Ltd supplying Asda with a locally sourced product range and supporting more than 150 retail and food service outlets as well as other regional farming businesses.

The supermarket decided to roll the initiative nationally according to the regions and Plumgarths became the model many others wanted to emulate, an ambition which John helped others to achieve through his help and guidance.

Creating an ever-evolving cost efficient business and securing better returns has been the core criteria of his career.

An avid networker, both at national and regional level, John has chaired more than 20 industry groups and organisations including the National Sheep Association, Westmorland County Agricultural Society and a mentor on the Lord Henry Plumb Foundation.

He is currently a director of Farmers Fresh, a lamb processing operation with 2,700 farmer shareholders and £100m turnover, and a director of North West Auctions where he undertook a major role in developing the business on its M6 J36 site.

Professional achievements

  • Director Farmers Fresh
  • Director, L&K Group and North West Auctions
  • 2017: Westmorland County Agricultural Society president
  • 2011 – 14: National Sheep Association northern region chairman
  • 2011: Trustee and chairman Westmorland County Agricultural Society;
  • 2009: Lleyn Sheep Society chairman
  • 2008: Co-authored  research reports on ‘Supplying Local Food to Mainstream Customers’
  • 2007: Agricultural Information Management Standards Chairman
  • 2006: Awarded the RAC/Rumenco Annual Fellowship in Beef and Sheep
  • 2006: Farm Business Rural Enterprise of the Year
  • 2003: RASE Excellence Award recipient
  • 2000: Northwest Food Alliance’s (NWFA) Red Meat Group member
  • 1999: British Charollais Sheep Society chairman

John Geldard on supporting industry organisations: “The easiest thing is to sit back and do nothing. I have been involved with the likes of the NSA, NBA, NFU and CLA and I believe it is important these organisations are supported by farmers so we are proactive to make sure they can achieve goals rather than criticising what they are not doing.”

John Geldard on seizing opportunities: “Grabbing the opportunities that have come way has given me the knowledge and education to progress professionally in my career.”

John Geldard on establishing Plumgarths: “At the turn of the century our objective was to develop a farm business that did not require any support payments from the EU or elsewhere. Our passion to develop a business that could survive without support and play a credible roll in our local economy. We work with other farmers to supply 90 local products into regional Asda stories ranging from eggs and ice cream to lamb and sausages.

We employ 25 members of staff who live in the local area and that makes me feel very proud.”

John Geldard on Prince Charles: “I was invited to St James Palace to become involved with a discussion Prince Charles was having with retailers who he was challenging to be more supportive of local producers and farmers. I asked to come to our farm shop, which he did in March 2003.”

John Geldard on politicians: “I often change myself whether I should get more annoyed with politicians but I just try and help them better understand recognise the challenges farmers are facing. We need a world class DEFRA and not be hanging by a piece of string.”

John Geldard on Succession planning: “It’s important to undertake succession planning and get it right. It’s an incredibly delicate part of the industry but we have to try and get right for both parties. I didn’t forget my first foot on the ladder and everybody who helped me and supported me.”

From Ben Briggs, Editor, Farmers Guardian

THROUGHOUT my time in agriculture, John Geldard has been someone synonymous with championing the needs of the farming community and promoting the industry’s next generation.

Quite often, successful businesspeople or those at the upper echelons of any industry can be detached from reality, or even aloof. But not John.

He champions the cause of the wider agricultural industry and never misses the chance to show politicians and civil servants the realities of life on farm, always ensuring that new incumbents of Defra make the journey to Cumbria to meet real farmers.

As well as being a farming figurehead in the north of England, his influence has stretched across the country through his work with the likes of the National Sheep Association (NSA), NFU, National Beef Association and Association of Independent Meat Suppliers, thus providing invaluable insight and perspective.

Despite having that status, he has always sought to encourage and mentor the next generation of farmers or those working in the wider industry, whether it is by giving them the chance to forge their own careers in agriculture or providing advice and guidance.

A driving force behind the establishment of the NSA’s Next Generation ambassador programme, that is just one example of how John has sought to give back to the industry.

With a relentless drive to succeed and seemingly boundless energy, it was just reward for John to receive the Outstanding Contribution to British Agriculture accolade at the British Farming Awards.

We spoke to John at the Awards night: “I feel exceptionally honoured to have won this tremendous accolade after having the privilege of been involved in the agricultural industry for some 45 years. But without the support of my family behind me, I would not have been in a position to get out and participate in the activities I have and is why I am so grateful for their continued support. Awards and evenings like this are fantastic and crucial in recognising the hard work that goes in behind the scenes. Agriculture has a bright future and the next generation have a lot to look forward to.”