Westcountry Policy Holders Celebrate Mutual Support and a Century of Farming
- The grandfather of Devon farmer, David Hopper, first took out a policy with NFU Mutual in the 1920s, farming two dozen animals.
- David and his brother Michael went on to look after 150 dairy cows, and now farm 300 beef cattle.
- Advancing technology and large-scale machinery has had the biggest impact on the family’s evolving insurance requirements.
- The Hoppers met with NFU Mutual CEO, Lindsay Sinclair, at the Devon County Show to celebrate their loyalty for almost a century.
In the late 1920s, Tillislow Farm in West Devon had around 25 cattle and sheep and grew oats. At the turn of the 21st century, third generation farmers David Hopper and his brother Michael built their stock to 150 dairy cows, as well as a burgeoning beef herd.
Now, some 90 years on from when their grandfather Benjamin first took on the farm, third generation farmers David and Michael, look after 300 beef cattle and the farm grows wheat, barley, maize and oats.
The family celebrated being one of NFU Mutual’s longest standing policy holders in the Westcountry at the Devon County Show, meeting the leading rural insurer’s Chief Executive, Lindsay Sinclair.
“We are proud to have served the Hoppers in Devon for over 90 years and it has been a privilege to spend time with them at the County Show.
“Since NFU Mutual was founded by seven farmers in 1910, our commitment to customers and providing a local, personalised service has always been the first priority. This is one of the reasons why so many of our policyholders, like the Hoppers, can trace their links to NFU Mutual over several generations.”
The Hopper family’s insurance needs have evolved as farming traditions, techniques and technology have changed since first taking out a policy with NFU Mutual almost a century ago.
“One of the main considerations now is public liability,” David said.“With the use of bigger machinery comes more risk.“Our grandfather would probably have started off with house and buildings cover. What we need coverage for has been gradually changing; my father never had any instances of bovine TB on his farm for example, whereas we’ve experienced several cases.”
The family has made a few claims over the years, including when the farm house was flooded around five years ago.
“What’s been really nice is that you get to know the people you speak to, so it’s nice to have that personal service over the years,” said David.
“We’ve always been given an annual review when an advisor visits and suggests how we can improve our coverage and make savings, which is helpful. But you only really find out how good an insurer is when you come to use them, and we have found NFU Mutual to be very supportive.
“And it’s nice to have a Mutual Bonus discount on our insurance premiums because we’ve been with them so long!”
Lindsay Sinclair added:
“We are continually working to improve the service we provide through our network of local offices and are determined to remain the insurer of choice for future generations of country people.”
In the late 1920s, Benjamin Hopper moved to Tillislow Farm having been the tenant farmer at a nearby farm for a number of years. He went on to buy the farm during the Depression years in the 1930s.
Because the farm was one of the few in the area to have a tractor, David and Michael’s father John was required to carry on working the farm during the Second World War alongside being part of the Home Guard.
During the war, a group from the Women’s Land Army worked the farm, and a number of Italian prisoners of war came to harvest potatoes there: Tillislow Farm was no different when it came to responding to the government’s demand that farms should devote a certain percentage of their land to potatoes in order to feed the population during the six-year-long war.
“Our father told us he had to turn some of his land into potato fields, even though it wasn’t really suitable for it, such was the need,” recalled David.“He was the only one who knew how to drive the tractor so he had to stay instead of going off to fight.”
David and Michael’s father John took over the running of the farm entirely during the 1950s and in 1967 he acquired the small farm next door and Tillislow became a dairy farm. Having helped out on the farm since they were young, David and his younger brother Michael became partners in the farm when David was 21.
“Being a family farm, the takeover process between generations is gradual,” explained David who is supported by his wife Elaine, who runs a holiday letting business on the farm. “My father was still farming right up to when he died aged 78, 15 years ago.”
The brothers helped build up the farm and over two decades increased the dairy herd from 15 to 150 cows, while continuing to rear beef cattle and grow wheat and barley.
They ceased sheep rearing in the 1990s and eventually decided to end the dairy operation around eight years ago when they set about further increasing the beef herd and expanded their crop production to include wheat, barley, oats and maize. David and Michael now keep 300 animals, with Michael spending less time on the farm these days having assumed a role with biotechnology firm, Genus.
“The biggest change over the years has been the mechanisation of farming,” said David. “In our grandfather’s time, it was all about sheer hard graft! It was much more physical. Having a tractor was a rare thing; most of the work was done by hand or by horse and plough. Nowadays, there is a machine for pretty much everything.
“The mechanisation of farming allows you to farm a much bigger area using less people. Our grandfather used to have seven people working for him. We have just one. This shows how much labour it used to take to work the land in years gone by. All the village used to be linked to the farming community.
“When we started dairy farming,” he continued. “We used to tie the cows up by their necks in the cowsheds and their milk would be collected in buckets. Then we’d carry the milk churns down to the end of the lane where a truck would come and collect them.
“It’s become quite a different process; now you just put the clusters on the udders and the milk goes straight into a refrigerated tank, and then a tanker comes along, attaches the pipes to the tank, and off it goes.”
For more information about NFU Mutual and to contact your local branch, visit www.nfumutual.co.uk
About NFU Mutual:
NFU Mutual offers a wide range of products, including general insurance, life, pensions and investments. These products and services are delivered through the agency network, as well as through a direct sales and service centre. Risk Management Services are delivered through NFU Mutual Risk Management Services Limited.
With over 300 offices located in rural towns and villages throughout the UK, NFU Mutual has become part of the fabric of rural life and remains committed to serving the needs of people who visit, live or work in the countryside.