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Winners Follow-up: The Dustow Family, 2019 Family Farming Business of the Year

Three generations of the Dustow family have worked together to future-proof their family farm and their efforts are being rewarded.

Family is the backbone to many farm businesses and for the Dustows it is at the heart and soul of what they do.

When faced with the loss of a major customer back in 2014 they pulled together, held their nerve and went on to transform their mixed farming enterprise for the better.

So when they won the Family Farming Business of the Year Award at last year’s British Farming Awards, it was a very proud moment for the Cornwall-based team.

Chris Dustow says: “It was such a big pat on the back. Everybody works tirelessly and it is constant. We were up against some great nominees who all deserved to win, so to be the overall winner was such a proud moment.”

Chris is the fifth generation to farm at Colwith, near Lanlivery, which was originally purchased by Stafford Dustow in 1904.

Nowadays Chris takes the overall responsibility for the farm, with father Mike assisting with field operations including spraying.

Manager Mark Grigg looks after the washing and packing side and helps Chris with key decisions. Others involved include Chris’ brother Steve, whose distillery is based on the farm and Chris’ wife Clare who runs the farm office taking care of health and safety, accounts and so on.

Finally, grandfather Clive, who is approaching his 90th birthday, is also still a key member of the team.

Chris says: “He is 89 years old so not full-time, but he is very fit and well for his age. He runs errands for us, collect us from the fields if we are working far from
home and generally gives us his opinion and advice.”


The family has been growing potatoes for 100 years, but it was only relatively recently that they decided to really focus on the crop.

Until about eight years ago the family ran sheep, grew 24-28 hectares (60-70 acres) of potatoes and 20ha (50 acres) of cereals.

They were, Chris says, not doing a lot of anything, but a mixture of several things. Some of the farm buildings needed reinvestment, so in 2012 they agreed the time was right to restructure the business.

He says: “I knew I was more interested in the arable side, so we decided to sell the sheep and concentrate on potatoes. We built a new cold store and a washing
and grading plant on a greenfield site and increased our potato production to 100 acres of potatoes in the first year, which we have expanded every year since. In
2015 further storage was then built to accommodate their growth.

“It has snowballed as we gained contracts to supply local bakeries and fish and chip shops. We have been growing more and more each year.

“Our turnover is about 10 times what it was in 2011 and fortunately our profit margin has followed suit.”

With the move towards one crop feeling more risky, the family set about diversifying their output and customer base and now produces 12 different varieties, serving the pre-pack, chipping and crisping markets.

As well as selling wholesale to processors, they also have contracts with a number of bakeries making Cornish pasties and local fish and chip shops.

More recently they have invested in a unit to wash and prepare fresh chips and soon secured a contract to supply a chain of restaurants which was keen to work with a local producer.

Chris says: “Contracts give us a bit of insurance. We did not have contracts before, but with the investments we have made we needed some security. It is a high value crop and we like to have a home for it before it is planted if we can.

“The investment has been huge over the past few years, but it has allowed us to offer our customers a premium end product all-year-round and build great customer relationships.

“Our fresh chip business saw a peak of five or six tonnes a week of chips and his product is worth eight to 10 times the value of a 25kg bag of ordinary chipping potatoes. It has been a lot of work and investment though.”

“We get on really well and I am very lucky the family is so supportive. If we make a decision everybody sticks to it.”


Unfortunately, since the closure of restaurants and other catering outlets due to Covid-19 restrictions, the fresh chip side of the business has come to a grinding halt.

Chris says: “We have shut the doors on that business temporarily, but at least it is a separate unit we can just shut the door on and there are zero costs.”

That said, in other areas their retail sales have skyrocketed, he says. The family had started selling directly from converted potato boxes at the end of the drive several years ago.

It proved hugely popular so they invested in a small farm shop to enable them to increase their volumes and offer complementary products.

Since the Covid-19 restrictions, demand at the shop has grown hugely and the family has responded by increasing the product range.

Chris says: “We are now stocking things we didn’t before, such as flour, bread and yeast, a diverse range of fruit and vegetables and we are working with a local butcher to stock meat as well.

“The shop continues to be operated on an honesty-based system as before. Ninety-nine per cent of people do pay for it.”

With the recent surge in sales, the family has just added an advanced self-service touch-screen checkout, which allows card and contactless payments and they hope to invest further to develop the shop in the near future.

Meanwhile, over the past 10 years, Chris’ brother Steve developed a distillery business on-farm. As well as Stafford’s Gin, which produces alcohol products for other companies, Steve has developed Cornwall’s first plough to bottle distillery producing vodka from Colwith’s potatoes.

His products include Aval Dor (Cornish for potato) vodka, made from Lady Amarilla potatoes, while Stafford’s Gin is made by infusing a blend of botanicals from the farm with Aval Dor. He is also working on producing whisky.

Since the Covid-19 pandemic  Steve has diverted the distillery into production of hand-santiser, which has been in high demand in the farm shop too. The distillery has grown to become a very useful customer for smaller potatoes and helps the farm avoid waste, says Chris.

He says: “We now grade slightly differently with a 65mm split. Potatoes measuring less than 65mm go to the distillery while the larger tubers go to our fresh chip line.

“It works really well and our customers are delighted with the larger samples.”


On the farm Chris and agronomist Seth Pascoe have been focusing on farming in a more natural way and reducing reliance on chemicals.

Chris says: “We are trying to use more natural fertilisers and nutrients. I have been on several courses looking at different ways of looking after crops and soils and trying to understand plant and soil health more.”

This has included starting to grow cover crops to plough in to build organic matter in the soil, he says.

“As we do not have dung and slurry any more, we are also working with another farm down at the bottom end of the country.

“As well as producing the earliest chipping potatoes in the country which they supply us with at the start of the season, they also have a green waste company. We are using their compost to get our worm counts up and generally improve soil structure.”

Working with family can have its challenges, says Chris.

“We may have different opinions on how things should be done and how much risk we should take regarding reinvestment and new customers. But we get on really well and I am very lucky the family is so supportive. If we make a decision everybody sticks to it.”

Clare entered the business for the award, says Chris.

“She felt the business was going so well and thought it was worth a shot. It was really great to get the recognition.

Clare works so hard behind the scenes and her influence and dedication is one of the key factors to our businesses success.”

Phoning his grandfather and brother to tell them the news that they had won was a particularly special moment, he says.

“I have three children and my brother also has three. It is brilliant there is definitely something to hand down to future generations.”

When it comes to his advice on entering the awards, Chris is unequivocal.

“So many farmers out there doing a great job. Farming gets a lot of bad publicity so it is great to have some good publicity for a change.”

Indeed, publicity from the Dustows’ win led to an increase in enquiries for both the potato business and distillery, along with their already loyal custom.

Chris says: “We have gained some new customers, as well as more followers on social media. We have a really good local customer base and lots of people phoned up to congratulate us saying how proud they were of us too.

“Family is at the heart and soul of our business and is why together we throw everything into it.”