The farming community came together in their hundreds last week as 18 winners of the British Farming Awards were announced.
Sponsored by Morrisons and organised by Farmers Guardian, the sell-out event was attended by more than 700 farmers and industry professionals at the National Conference Centre in Birmingham.
Now in its ninth year, the event celebrated innovative, determined and extraordinary farmers across all sectors, along with the diversity and adaptability of the UK’s farming community, no matter the size or scale of their businesses.
Alongside farming’s core sectors, including dairy, beef, sheep, arable and machinery, there was also recognition for students, family farms, sustainable businesses, new entrants, new agri-technology and the huge number of diversifications, which are now so crucial to many businesses.
With 18 categories up for grabs, a panel of 68 judges interviewed 63 finalists over the summer before eventually deciding on this year’s winners.
Kicking off the evening was the Outstanding Contribution to British Agriculture award, which was presented to NFU president, Minette Batters.
As the first female president in the Warwickshire-headquartered organisation’s 112-year history, Minette worked her way up the ranks to become a much admired and respected leader who now represents more than 50,000 farmers and growers in England and Wales since it was founded in 1908.
In her role she has taken farming’s fight to Government and tirelessly campaigned on the major issues affecting the industry at a crucial time in its history, including advocating the ambitious goal of reaching net zero across the whole of agriculture by 2040.
Outside of agri-politics, she is a mixed farmer from Wiltshire and has also diversified into weddings and catering.
Other regions winners included Jake Freestone of Overbury Farms in Worcestershire who won Gold for the Arable Innovator one the Year.
Designing a regenerative agriculture system and integrating livestock with the arable enterprise across a wider area of the farm is Jake’s main innovation. The move has reduced greenhouse gas emissions, cut costs of production, maintained yields with fewer inputs and improved the amount and variation of wildlife on-farm. Water infiltration has increased and soil erosion from the fields has stopped.
Jeremy Clarkson and Kaleb Cooper won the Flying the Flag for British Agriculture Award. The dynamic agri-duo who farm Jeremy’s 1,000 acre Diddly Squat farm near Chipping Norton used their win to call on the British public to back British farming as they highlighted the importance of the nation’s food producers.
Winning many admirers within the farming community, as well as becoming unintentional farming ambassadors, Jeremy and Kaleb have helped farming ride the crest of an incredible wave of public support over the past 18 months.
Kaleb added: “If anyone thinks that a farmer is out there to make food as cheap as possible and abuse that role, they are wrong. Farmers care and they care so much.”
Machinery Innovator of the year went to Robert Hadley, of Chesterton Fields Farm in Warwickshire.
Improving soil structure and keeping mud off roads were two reasons why Robert decided to design his own chaser bin to run with the combine.
Running a mixed farming enterprise at Chesterton Fields Farm, near Leamington Spa, Robert grows 960 acres of cereals to include wheat, barley, beans and maize, and farms another 400 acres in a contract farming agreement.
The farm is also home to 70 pedigree South Devon cows and a small flock of 180 Texel cross Lleyn breeding ewes.
Having repeatedly searched to buy a chaser bin suited to his needs, Robert turned to Ivan Kendle, of engineering company North Norfolk Vehicle Solutions (NNVS), and jotted his idea on the back of a cigarette packet.
Two years on and the specially built chaser bin was ready for the 2020 maize harvest, providing Robert with an easy handled and easily accessible machine that could hold the capacity of a large combine tank while running on big tyres.
His aim was to keep tractors and trailers out of the fields, and have the chaser bin and combine going continuously during a harvest.
For him, this meant the combine is no longer running to a headland to unload maize and they can just keep cutting and the crop can be taken to the headland or gateway where an empty trailer is waiting.
As a result, he is now managing compaction on the soil better and it stops mud being trailed onto roads.
The chaser bin runs on a single-axle offering an 8t capacity and requires low power input from the tractor as Robert adds it is easily handled with just 170hp.
Two farmers, baed in Buckinghamshire and Gloucestershire won in the Against All Odds category. Tom Addison, from Addison Agri, Green Valley Farm in Buckinghamshire won Gold, and James Matthews, of Dynamic Dairy Farming in Thornbury won Silver.
Tom Addison worked on sheep, arable and cattle farms in Australia for three months then started lambing and relief milking for various farms in the area on his return.
He began his business in 2013 after bringing eight pet lambs back from a lambing job and purchasing 40 ewe lambs.
But his five-year business plan for a £27,000 loan to buy 400 sheep was rejected by the bank in 2015, due to his age and not owning a house. To date he has never received any funding from the bank.
In 2018, Tom changed to outdoor lambing to reduce costs, and all finished lambs are sold through Farmers Fresh at Kenilworth or his own box scheme which uses a local slaughterhouse five miles away. He also purchases 100 pet lambs from local farmers each April.
Making use of the empty buildings, Tom buys calves from Buitelaar, Livestock Link and auction marts to rear, which are then sold privately, either to regular customers or farm-to-farm through Thame market, Meadow Quality and Breedr.
The judges said: “Despite being rejected for a loan by the bank because he was too young and had no mortgage, Tom’s positive approach to innovation and openness to opportunities really impressed the judges as did his aptitude to find practical economical solutions to challenges and good eye for production and performance. He had a strong knowledge and understanding of the wider industry issues and had also developed himself personally to become more resilient.
James Matthews, of Elmtree Farm, has been successfully running his organic dairy contract farming business, milking 350 cows for the Tortworth Estate, for the past five years.
His current arrangement sees him meet monthly with the estate’s consultant to update them on how the farm is doing. He also rears the replacement heifer calves to weaning at three months, which are then contract reared down the road by the estate and returned prior to calving at 24 months old. Key investments have been ‘simple things’ which make the job easier, more efficient and enjoyable, from a calf feeding trailer and a teat cleaning brush to under-sowing spring cereals with grass so the next ley is ready after the wholecrop has been taken off.
James has concentrated hard on getting the basics rights for grazing, fertility and herd health.
His biggest challenge to date was finding the right opportunity to step up from herd manager and he looked at various opportunities before coming across his current contract farming agreement.