Hot Seat: Building a £117m business in Ripon over 40 years
Last updated Feb 4, 2022

In 1982, Geoff Brown and four colleagues started a modest agricultural machinery business called Ripon Farm Services.

The firm, which took on John Deere and Land Rover franchises, began with 19 members of staff and budgeted to generate £1.1 million in its first year.

Now, as the company celebrates its 40th anniversary, it has 270 staff, 12 depots and recorded turnover of £117.2 million for the financial year ending January 31, 2021 — significantly up on the £106.4 million figure for the previous year.

Ripon Farm Services, which is based on Dallamires Lane in Ripon, has become one of the Harrogate district’s biggest and best known employers. It supplies a wide range of new and used equipment from franchises including John Deere, Kuhn, Bailey, Kramer and Stihl.

Mr Brown (left) and a colleague alongside a John Deere tractor.

Mr Brown, who was brought up on a farm and has lived in Burnt Yates all his life, has been at the helm throughout the company’s existence.

Now 76, he remains a director and is keen to drive the business forward for “a while yet”. He adds:

“While I’m OK I will carry on.”

Brexit and Prince Charles

The last 12 months have been hectic, dealing not only with covid but also the impact of Brexit, which has had major repercussions for agriculture.

He also met Prince Charles — not for the first time — at Harrogate’s Great Yorkshire Show, where Ripon Farm Services always has a big presence.

The two men chatted amiably for some time. Mr Brown says:

“Somebody asked how did I make him laugh. I said I just talked to him. He knows a lot about farming and machinery. I met him previously at the Pateley show. He’s a very down to earth fella.”

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Mr Brown admits the company benefited from the backwind that British agriculture enjoyed in the 1980s and 1990s but thriving over four decades is testimony to far more than luck. He says:

“It’s just been steady growth since we started.”

Ripon Farm Services at Great Yorkshire Show

Ripon Farm Services at the Great Yorkshire Show

61-year career

Mr Brown’s working life spans a remarkable 61 years. He started in 1961 at Glovers of Ripon, a car and agricultural machinery dealer.

Glovers was taken over by Appleyards in 1965, which lost the Massey Ferguson franchise the following year and consequently took on one of the first John Deere dealerships in the UK.

In 1966 Mr Brown was promoted to John Deere demonstrator at Appleyards.

Geoff Brown at Ripon Farm Services' New Year Show last month.

Geoff Brown at Ripon Farm Services’ New Year Show last month.

When Appleyards sold its agricultural business in 1982 — something Mr Brown heard about when he was setting up the stand at the Great Yorkshire Show — it paved the way for something new.

So by October than year Mr Brown, along with Maurice Hymas, Bill Houseman and two other directors, had set-up Ripon Farm Services.

Selling Land Rover

Regrets? Just a few. The company sold its Land Rover franchise in 2016. Mr Brown says:

“They wanted us to move to Harrogate or Knaresborough and sell Jaguars but I didn’t want to do either of those things and now, ironically, they have relented and dealers don’t have to sell Jaguars.”

Ripon Farm Services continues to be synonymous with the distinctive John Deere green. It’s a truly international set-up: a British firm, selling American machinery all around the world. Mr Brown says:

“We export a lot of tractors and combine harvesters. Our biggest overseas markets are Poland and Spain.”

He acknowledges Brexit has caused some bumps but “it hasn’t stopped us”.

British farmers still face uncertainty about what payments will replace the loss of EU subsidies but Mr Brown remains optimistic about the future for farmers:

“As long as the government looks after them and gets something in place of the grants I can’t see it being a problem. The good ones will still be around.”