Farming feature: Eating up your profits: ‘Ratman’ to the rescue
- Credit: Archant
Farmer and pest control expert MARK WARD is the founder of Command Pest Control in Preston St Mary, near Lavenham, and knows first hand the trials and tribulations farmers face when their crops - or machinery - are infested. Here he explains how pest controllers can help farm businesses.
AMONGST the drone of conversation in a restaurant I can hear the deep tones of a farmer.
“Ratman,” says the voice. I look up and make eye contact.
“I said to the wife this must be a good place to eat. There’s the ratman, he must know the kitchen is clean,” says the voice.
On the way to the toilet I am beckoned over.
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“I’m glad I’ve caught you,” he says. “We have a mole on the lawn, rats on the game cover and mother wants you to look at some woodworm. Don’t forget, will you?”
I return to the table and ask my partner for a pen and paper.
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I have been associated with farmers and farming all my live, I was born on a farm in Hitcham at a time which slightly interrupted the potato harvest as the lady pickers were curious to see if my mother had had a boy or a girl.
Farming is in my blood with both my parents families having worked the land for generations. It was inevitable that I would be drawn to agriculture but after a short spell working on farms as a boy the draw of commercial life was too much.
Following a period of growing orchids, running a market stall and being a self employed salesman, financial hardship led me to take my father’s advice and apply for a job as the local ratman, or pest control operative as it was advertised.
The interviewer was somewhat surprised that I was wearing a pin striped suit, but, after some convincing, I got the job, a job I took very seriously. Commercialism again came calling and in 1986, I formed Command Pest Control.
Our enthusiasm for this business and for farming naturally steered the company towards agricultural services.
With our farming connections, the company grew very fast.
We attended many agricultural shows, including 20 years at the Suffolk Show.
Years ago, farmers would visit county shows often on one of the days on their own in order to place orders.
I can remember leaving shows and on the way home wondering how we would get through all the enquiries.
Twenty-seven years later, Command employs over 60 staff covering everywhere from Hampshire to North Yorkshire and Ireland. Farming equates to around 65% of the business which includes visiting around 6,000 farms. It gives advice and support with rodent, insect and bird pests.
Grain monitoring, grain store cleaning and spraying with a fumigation service are the core seasonal activity of the business.
Wheat, barley, oats and rape are all very susceptible crops to infestations because of when they are harvested. When there is any moisture in the cereal or in the atmosphere it can seriously affect the storage and quality.
Insects can be active outside and inside the storage facility. Once in the bin or on the floor the grain may be still warm and can provide an excellent habitat for stored-grain insects. A warm area in the heap often indicates insect and/or spoilage problems.
Using aeration to cool down grain in the autumn will help to reduce insect infestation and slow their reproduction, however turning and ventilation may not be enough and fumigation might be necessary.
Farm grain stores and bins have to be clean and kept pest free prior to the introduction of the harvest.
Rodents can take over and cause damage to the structure, wiring, stored farm machinery and the commodity.
Every farm is different and the treatment also varies depending on the circumstances prevailing. The company looks after a wide client base in the agricultural, commercial and domestic sectors. Many of the enquiries are for rats, mice, and a wide range of insects but it receives calls for many different UK and imported pests.
In 2012, the region suffered months of wet weather playing havoc with crop yields. The last thing farmers want is pests to start eating profits. Rabbits cost agriculture more than £100million annually.
The company is expert in all types of rural pest control using a range of traditional and hi-tech methods against rabbits, rodents, pigeons and other pest animal species. The business also deals with flies, mites and other insects that affect poultry and other livestock.
The business has now grown with over 40 trained and experienced technicians with office, technical and sales surveyor support. Close working partnerships has led to many clients remaining loyal to Command for many years and this has meant the development of the business with washroom services, hygiene and cleaning services, property care, carpet cleaning and even dirty house cleaning.
Timber treatment for a wide range of destructive beetle pests is another service provided along with the fitting of insulation.
The company is a member of British Pest Control Association and has SafeContractor accreditation and is grown to be East Anglia’s premier independent provider of pest control and fumigation services.
The love of farming never dwindled and I could not resist the opportunity to purchase land of my own.
We now farm 350 acres (with considerable help from a contractor!) farms being at Preston St Mary and Hitcham.
Farming is a business that must make money in order to continue, but farmers invest into that farm in the form of conservation etc because they enjoy owning that land.
The farms and farming operation gives me enormous pleasure and I practically enjoy watching the changes of the seasons and how quickly things change.
Visiting other farms to look at pest problems, talking to farmers and the grain trade regularly helps greatly with the business side of running the farms. Networking is very important in any business and I feel privileged to be able to do business with farmers and farm.