Magazine article Management Today

Haskins's Love of the Good Life

Magazine article Management Today

Haskins's Love of the Good Life

Article excerpt

Northern Foods chairman Chris Haskins waxes lyrical about farming to Alison Maitland, the Financial Times agricultural correspondent, and explains how it's always been in his blood

For a man who was once after the job I do now, Chris Haskins is remarkably unassuming. The chairman of Northern Foods, who grew up on his father's farm in Wicklow, Ireland, would have liked most of all to be a journalist - preferably the farming writer for the FT - or, failing that, a farmer himself. 'Northern Foods is more of a hobby for me,' he jokes, as we stand in his farmyard in Yorkshire on a bitterly cold winter's day.

The farm, about 20 minutes' drive from Northern Foods' headquarters in Hull, is a serious business for him. But that does not mean he can impose his views on his wife Gilda and oldest son Paul, who are the full-time farmers in the family. 'I have to be as tactful here as I do at Northern Foods, otherwise there are stony looks,' he says. In any case, 'they say it would go bust if left to me'.

This might have something to do with his self-confessed tendency to let his thoughts drift when doing any routine, repetitive task. 'I've never been let loose on a combine harvester. I was once driving the tractor with a load of bales when I managed to swipe off an electric cable. But that was many years ago and I prefer to forget it.'

We retreat into the warmth of the farmhouse kitchen, where Haskins explains how farming has always been in his blood. His first memories of farming were as a boy home from school in 1945,walking behind an elderly farmhand who spent the Christmas holidays ploughing a nine-acre field with two horses.

Chris and Gilda, daughter of Northern Dairies' founder Alec Horsley, bought 200 acres of land west of Hull 20 years ago and built it up to 800 acres over the years. They grow wheat, barley, oilseed rape and potatoes. A 50-strong beef herd produces meat for the Waitrose supermarket chain. The herd has not suffered BSE and this will be a good year because beef shortages are likely to follow the Government's culling programmes. But Haskins is still fretting about the loss of two animals from pneumonia over Christmas, when still, foggy weather caused health problems for many cattle in the north.

He feeds the cattle at weekends, but admits to having never milked a cow and prefers crops to livestock. …

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