Graham Birch: Gold, India &
a Private Education

Issue 101, October 2014

In early 2009, the gold price was racing towards $1,000 per ounce and gold majors were trading at twice their current levels.

Seen as the mining industry’s top stock picker of the previous decade, Dr. Graham Birch had returned 684 per cent to investors in BlackRock’s Gold & General Fund over 10 years, growing the group’s mining mandates into the world’s largest and personally managing $39bn.

But in March 2009, Birch traded the position in to manage his dairy farm in the south of England.

The Herd

“The herd – predominantly pedigree Holstein Friesians – numbers about 300, giving 2.7m litres a year,” reads an article in Farmers Weekly. “The aim is to push this to 325 next year, with sales of 3m litres.”

Descriptions of Birch’s farm read like those of a midcap miner squeezing efficiencies from its flagship deposit. Under his ownership the farm has added Jersey and Guernsey cows to boost butterfat, laid concrete in the farmyard to reduce lameness and ploughed £400,000 into a grain depot, allowing the farm to store its harvest, rather than having to sell it all at once.

The milking parlour has been extended and a 24,000 litre tank collects water off the roof of a newly built youngstock shed, filling troughs in the cow shed and assaulting the farm’s £28,000 annual water bill.

Conception rates have been nudged above 80 per cent, mastitis rates have halved and farmhands are put out on contract work at the end of each day, increasing the equipment’s fleet utilisation rate. “I firmly believe that modern machinery can play a major role in boosting operating margins,” his farm manager boasts, “as it raises productivity by minimising downtime.”

Graham Birch

“It’s not a way of life, it’s a business,” Birch insists. His latest round  of investment has been in precision farming, using existing technologies to lower costs and increase yield.

“All our tractors are...

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“There’s a lot of risk in today’s market.”

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