All three Farm Manager of the Year finalists have been running complex, growing businesses for more than 12 years. They also share a dynamic, energetic and innovative approach to their work, keen to harness technology at the same time as respecting their environment. Suzie Horne reports

Scott Kirby
Harper Adams University, Shropshire

Juggling the demands of a large commercial farming business with the need to provide educational and research opportunities is part of Scott Kirby’s daily routine.

Joining Harper Adams University College as farm manger in 2000 aged just 30, Scott had to make some bold decisions. These have seen the farm business move from loss to profit and a turnover of more than £1.2m.

A review of technical performance not only improved things financially but helped to build credibility outside the college as well as raising confidence internally in the farm business.

Initially a feed mill was closed and the arable area reduced, while the milk contract was moved to a higher-priced Tesco contract through Wiseman.

January 2009 marked a key outcome of his review – the construction of a £1.8m dairy complex for 400 cows on a greenfield site.

This brought the need to rebalance the business so that milk and forage production did not dominate. The farmed area has grown from 254ha when Scott joined to 650ha through tenancy, contract farming, land purchase and contract growing arrangements on clay, sand and peat soils.

This means not only a much larger cropped acreage but also dealing with 12 landlords and landowners on different arrangements.

Two new livestock enterprises have also been introduced – extensive beef finishing taking beef-cross bulls from the dairy and a pedigree Lleyn flock producing ewes for sale and finishing lambs. Finished stock from both of these supply the college kitchens, shortening the marketing chain and extending the skills of the catering staff in butchery.

Compliance with new EU cage regulations from January this year required a £2m investment or closure of the farm’s 85,000-bird egg production unit. The decision was taken to lease out the site to a third-party producer, which would provide the investment to refit the site while retaining the teaching and research opportunities.

Alongside the dairy, another high-profile investment has occupied much of Scott’s time. Construction of a 500kW anaerobic digester began in 2010 – the plant is about to complete its first year of operation and is an industry showpiece as well as an important new commercial enterprise.

Scott is working with a group of six local farmers to develop a market for the digestate and aims to source 40% of the farm’s crop nutrients from organic sources in the first year of operation.

About half of the farm’s cereals are processed on site for use in feed, while reliance on imported proteins is being reduced through growing lucerne.

As the farm expands, Scott’s role focuses increasingly on strategy, planning and delivery, with three further managers being appointed and given day-to-day responsibility for the dairy unit, crop production and youngstock, beef, sheep and feed and forage.

The farm’s 12 permanent staff (plus casuals) is one of its principal assets, he says. “My philosophy is to seek staff that can demonstrate a strong work ethic and that they are hungry for responsibility. The type of people we have often respond to this and deliver above and beyond what’s expected.”

Student placements including a graduate training position and apprenticeships are also offered.

Allowing students to shadow key farm staff has proved a great success, while Scott’s farm manager forums base lectures on topical issues on his own desk. Another important call on his time are the many visitors to the farm, from primary school children to royalty.

As well as establishing an HLS scheme, other conservation and environment initiatives have been undertaken, and until recently Scott chaired the local parish environment committee.

In 2010, he managed to fit a Nuffield scholarship on sustainable agriculture into his schedule. After a hectic first 12 years, Scott is looking forward to a period of consolidation and stability.

A word from our sponsors

Claas logo“Claas is investing heavily in new tractors and harvesting machinery to improve efficiency on farms. But as managing a farming business becomes more challenging, Claas recognises that it’s the people who make the real difference on British farms today.This year’s three finalists are all exceptional people and are making a difference.”

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Meet the other 2012 finalists

Find out more about the 2012 Farmers Weekly Awards including details of how to book tables for the event’s glittering London awards bash.