Technical director, Velcourt Farming
Keith Norman’s influence on UK arable farms goes way beyond his role as technical director of farming company Velcourt. He has dedicated his 25-year career to seeking out scientific solutions and conducting independent farm trials to determine the best methods of crop production.
This information has given Velcourt farm managers a crucial commercial edge. But he has seen the importance and value of spreading that knowledge and information to farms beyond the Velcourt gate. Keith pioneered the farm open day demonstration trials that informed so many advisers and arable businesses in the 80s.
And his appetite for exploring new science and harnessing its potential in practice has not diminished, setting him apart as one of the country’s leading influences on arable production.
The company manages 53,000ha in the UK, as well as 19,000ha in Ukraine, Spain, France, Germany and Zambia.
His crop guidelines are based on trials overseen by him. “It’s essential to have independent data on which to base crop management recommendations. Manufacturers often draw different conclusions from trials, making truly independent data and advice hard to come by,” he says.
The Velcourt trials provide him with an advance insight on new chemistry, techniques and tools, enabling Velcourt-managed farms to consistently deliver 1.5t/ha above average yields.
And this effect has been felt overseas, where wheat yields were lifted from 5t/ha to 8.5t/ha in one year at the Duke of Arion’s estate at Toledo in Spain.
Being the “first to know” is a key driver of Velcourt’s investment in 5,500 plots and a six-man trial team. That, combined with Keith’s wide industry involvement encompassing the R&D HGCA committee, BBSRC, John Innes Centre and AgTech strategy, to name but a few, keeps him ahead of the game – and a key influence on UK crop production right up to government level.
“Keith’s reputation as one of the UK’s leading agronomists is deserved. He’s applying scientific rigour, R&D analysis and practical hands-on skills to driving crop yields way above the national average.”
Fees for advice to non-Velcourt farming clients is up to three times that of average agronomy fees, which simply reflect the value that is placed on independent trials, analysis and Keith’s scientific interpretation.
Keith’s interest in how science can directly benefit commercial crop production has spread beyond agricultural science, in particular to the potential of electronic sensor designs, high-resolution cameras and unmanned aircraft systems to aid crop management.
“Keith’s breadth and depth of knowledge is quite unique, enabling him to play a critical role in knowledge exchange for the whole industry,” says the AHDB’s Susannah Bolton.
How does the atypical advisory relationship between Keith and his “captive clients” of Velcourt farm managers work? He describes it as a two-way street. Advice is made on the science and data generated in-house, but weekly field meetings with the farm managers ensure they can influence and challenge, he explains.
He is a strong believer that a successful adviser has to be a good listener and learn from other people’s experiences.
Keith is a true pioneer of science, technology and innovation. He’s played a central role in driving forward British arable production.
UK Business Manager