Lori-Jo Sharp graduated from Harper Adams University in the summer of 2017 with a FdSc Agriculture degree, looking to return to the family farm and develop a business venture of her own. Having always loved working with sheep from being a little girl, entering the sheep milking enterprise proved the logical next step on the family farm.
Lori-Jo spoke about how she came to sheep farming saying, "I started with a flock of commercial sheep, with my dad teaching me about how to look after them. Now with my own flock, I also run some commercial sheep and a small number of Hereford cattle. It has been a lot of hard work getting this far but my degree prepared me well for this.
"I found one of the most beneficial parts to the degree was the placement year where I worked for Dawn Meats. I felt it gave me a real insight into a different aspect of agriculture from what I was use to; showcasing what is needed for a business to work across all areas of the profession. It also gave a practical side to some of the subjects we had been learning about in classroom.
"The farm business management module has been beneficial as it has given me a better understanding of how to set out a business plan correctly and what to include. We also had the option to take skills modules which gave us extra qualifications and certificates; I worked towards a business administration qualification that has been incredibly helpful in my work."
With this experience all culminated, Lori-Jo felt ready and prepared to make the next step in her business venture. Having her own flock meant she had milk as a by-product and, only by seeing a long term business plan at work at Dawn Meats, did she feel comfortable enough to try cheese making.
"I made the decision to go into cheese making because I felt I needed to produce an end product from the milk," she said, "as farming alone is very hard with only small margins, so producing an end product which is also in a niche market was key for my business. Creating a business plan with this in mind meant I could work to prepare setting up to make cheese myself.
"The business idea came from one of the low points in my sheep farming. In my second year of work, around 6 weeks into milking, I lost my milk contract which left me with a lot of milk to do something with and also put financial pressure on the business. To overcome this I still had some lambs feeding on milk, and bought in extra pet lambs to feed the ewes' milk to. This was when I brought my business plan forward and trialled making some cheese. While this was a setback, it opened up a new venture that I'm really excited to pursue."
As well as milking and making cheese, Lori-Jo works across family acres and is self employed on several farms in the surrounding area to keep a reliable income while trialling her business ideas. Although she has seen ups and downs over the years after departing from Harper Adams, it has not deterred her from striving for more.
Lori-Jo also talked about inspiring future generations of sheep farmers. She said: "to never give up on what you want to do. You’ll get good and bad times throughout, you may have to change your plans sometimes, but usually can make it work for the better. Don’t be afraid to ask for help either, people are always willing to help where they can."
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