Profiting from waste
That waste business started with the Hunnifords collecting waste from local factories to use for land-spreading. While the farm enjoyed a good income through the gate fees received for collecting waste, Richard Jr saw an opportunity to build that side of the business even further by installing a 500-kilowatt anaerobic digestion (AD) facility.
It is the anaerobic digestor that probably represents the biggest investment for the Hunnifords in recent times, and they’re leading the way in Northern Ireland in this form of green energy.
“Our anaerobic digestor was the first in Northern Ireland to utilise food and bio waste exclusively,” explains Richard Jr.
“It’s now running well but we’ve learned some lessons along the way. We had developed our plans for the plant, but following a visit to a similar facility in Aberdeen, we ripped up those plans and started again. Like so much of what we do, it’s been a steep learning curve!”
The processed digestate now feeds back into the national grid and any electricity used on the farm comes from the digestor plant, reducing the Hunniford’s energy costs to zero.
“It’s been an excellent investment for us and despite the initial outlay has helped us significantly reduce costs from energy to the fertiliser we use on the farm,” says Richard.
“It is also a good story to tell for the factories that supply us because their waste is going to produce green energy.”
While investing in the anaerobic digestors made sense from the beginning, buying a one-acre glasshouse from Holland, over the internet, may not have seemed such an obvious business decision.
It does, though, reflect the Hunniford’s entrepreneurial spirit and desire to futureproof the business so the family farm will continue to thrive for the next generation and beyond.
As Richard Sr says: “If you stand still in farming you will struggle in the future. You have to take chances in life and I’ve always backed the boys in whatever plans they have.”
The glasshouses are a case in point. Richard Jr is aware that they have a lot to learn about growing flowers but is confident that their initial outlay for the glasshouses will prove to be a sound investment.
“We’ve certainly made some mistakes along the way,” he says. “In the first year only half our lilies were ready for Valentine’s Day. The ones ready the next day were worth half the amount. You have to time your growing to the day, but if you get it right, there’s a lot of money to be made.”