Whilst the tomato business is now very successful, Jim said that it has been far from an easy ride.
He explained: “If you do something like this you have got to really want it, without having that bug it is not going to work. There are difficult decisions to make, and you have to get your sleeves rolled up and work hard. I was very determined that we would not fail and be left with a bad reputation with the bank.”
The Shanks’ now have a high performing biogas plant and a 4-acre glasshouse: “The glasshouse was built in 2016 and our first growing season was in 2017.
“We are now in our sixth year of growing and are currently selling to Morrisons and Asda,” Jim said. “We sell both classic round and cherry tomatoes and about 80% of them are sold on the vine as Scottish tomatoes with the Scottish flag on the packet.”
Running the tomato operation has been very different to what Jim was used to with the dairy: “In a very short space of time, we went from 4 members of staff to about 40 which is a big jump. All of our staff are local – there is still a really strong work ethic in the Borders which has helped us,” he explained. “And we have a Dutch consultant who really helps us with the technical knowledge.”
The biogas plant is fed with whole crop rye and silage that is grown on the farm.
Jim said: “I spent a lot of time looking at German biogas plants and I just copied the model which I saw working there, which was slurry from the dairy being inputted and topped up with homegrown whole crop. The other important thing for me was that the farmer owns the biogas plant and therefore has complete control of the quality of gas production.”
Jim explained that the dairy side of the farm is still a hugely important part of the business: “The dairying takes up a disproportionate amount of my time. A hardened businessman would not carry on doing it, but I have a strong emotional connection to the cows and sometimes it is important to know where your heart is. I think that is why a lot of people are still dairy farming.”
He continued: “That said it takes a huge amount of time and commitment, and the minute it stops making money then it will stop.”
Moving ahead Jim is still looking for ways in which he can improve the business: “We are always looking at new ideas and pushing doors open. We do not want to waste anything, perhaps there are ways in which we can market things differently and maximise our income for what we are producing. It is important to keep an open mind, you cannot see what is ahead of you if you are looking at the ground.”
Jim now has a young family to look after, and he said that his family have been a huge part of this project.
“Family are the backbone of everything, without those people behind you, you are nothing. There are a huge amount of low moments and that is when you really need them,” he said “As much as we want to build the business further, it is about balance. We are now in a comfortable position and it would be nice to go on family holidays and things like that now. A young family is something you only get to see grow up once and I do not just want to be left as the richest man in the graveyard.”