A radical but practical dairy plan and innovative yet realistic projects for redundant farm sites secured the 2012 Farmplanner of the Year title for the team from Dorset’s Kingston Maurward College.

Other finalists in this year’s competition were teams from Harper Adams, Newcastle University and Cornwall’s Duchy College.

A combination of extensive research and the practical, grounded approach taken by the winning team impressed the judging panel, which was unanimous in its decision.

Kingston Maurward’s winning entry included clear five- and 10-year plans, backed by research that included talking to and visiting farms and other businesses with experience of what the team planned for the estate.

“We tried to recommend ideas that will not only benefit the farm through increased profits, but ones that will also provide asset growth, add to the Farley brand and link the whole estate together, creating a sustainable business for the current and future generations,” said the team.

Along with all other entries, the first move in the plan for the estate was to end an outside contract to run the dairy herd, taking the herd back in-hand at the Farley Estate in Berkshire.

However Kingston Maurward took a radically different approach to restructuring the dairy, with an initial reduction in cow numbers to 150 and robotic milkers to replace the current parlour. This would raise yield, reduce mastitis and cow stress, and cut labour costs.

Longer term, it was proposed that cow numbers rise to 300 with the purchase of two additional robots.

Keeping some of the investments low-risk was an important feature of Kingston Maurward’s plans, with a proposal to bring in a nursery business to lease redundant farm buildings after conversion, rather than the estate itself trying to run another diversification on top of considerable capital expenditure in conversion costs.

The team secured the interest of a company in this site and offered costings at three rental rates, demonstrating sensitivity to changing circumstances.

“Kingston Maurward’s team of six answered questions from the panel confidently and fully, demonstrating that they were engaged with both the practical farming aspects of their plans and with other important aspects such as the planning process and environment schemes,” said chair of the judging panel Tim Brigstocke.

Finding alternative uses or plans for a 1970s redundant grain store site was a further challenge the teams were asked to consider. This sits close to two private houses and overlooks the dairy land.

Kingston Maurward’s ambitious but impressive plan here was to clear the site and replace the grain store with a timber-framed farm building to maintain an agricultural appearance. This would then be backed by a stunning contemporary design house behind the store.

A proposal for beef finishing began with a five-year plan to finish dairy beef on contract alongside the purchase of native breed store cattle to finish off grass. Once dairy cow numbers rose after the initial five-year plan, then Angus and Hereford semen would be used on some of the dairy cows to allow home-bred native beef breeds to be finished.

“While the estate would not necessarily choose to do everything the winning entry proposed, it was felt that Kingston Maurward’s plans were well researched, practical and achievable,” said Farley estate manager Mark Robins.

Kingston Maurward’s winning plan for Farley Estates

  • Improve dairy and raise yield by converting to a robotic milking system and creating a showcase farm – reduce cow numbers to 150 for first five years.
  • Create a native breeds beef enterprise, rearing and finishing calves produced by dairy herd.
  • Renew ELS, consider entering HLS and obtain further woodland grants.
  • Convert redundant farmstead to a children’s nursery or holiday accommodation.
  • Convert redundant grain store into residential dwelling but retaining the impression of an agricultural site.

The judges commended the winning entry for its original ideas and applicability with appropriate levels of detail and validated by talking to farmers who were already practising the proposed systems.

Kingston Maurward had a strong sense of timing, with short-term and long-term plans, and managed the process better than other finalists, they said. Each member of the team had specialised in one aspect without losing the coherence of the whole.

This team also had the most members who the judges we were most likely to employ.

All the finalists had clearly put a lot of work into the competition. All had relevant ideas, in many cases as good as the winner’s. However all of the proposals underestimated the problems of sales and marketing.

“I would like to thank all the contestants for the time and effort they put into the competition. Many parts of their reports almost reached professional levels, with perhaps greater originality.

“We will be further investigating many of the ideas suggested, and not just in the winning presentation,” said host Lord Bearsted.

Farmplanner of the Year 2012

The Farmplanner of the Year competition is run by the Institute of Agricultural Management.

Each year a different estate or large mixed farm is chosen as a case study which the teams visit so they can prepare a business development plan for the estate. Four finalist teams are chosen to present their cases to the judges.

Who is it aimed at?

Student teams at agricultural colleges and universities throughout the UK. Lecturers and course managers, field teams of students from a range of further- and higher-education courses, who will benefit from the chance to get their teeth into practical farm management topics.

Who took part this year?

  • Duchy College, Cornwall
  • Bridgewater College, Somerset
  • Hadlow College, Kent
  • Harper Adams University College, Shropshire
  • Lincoln College
  • Plumpton College, Sussex
  • Hartpury College, Gloucestershire
  • Kingston Maurward College, Dorset
  • Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne
  • Reading University, Reading
  • Moulton College, Northamptonshire

Where is it held?

The success of the competition hinges on its host farm. Typically a large mixed farm or estate gives students the opportunity to review its business structure, objectives and performance, with access to farm management data including financial information. All information is treated confidentially, but the greater the level of access hosts give the students, the better the exercise and, very often, the more useful the results.

When does the competition take place?

Usually, the on-farm work (one day) takes place in early spring, with the shortlisted teams presenting their appraisals to the hosts and the judges in early July.

Who decides?

The judging panel this year included estate owner Lord Bearsted, estate manager Mark Robins, Piers Costley of sponsor Farmplan, Tim Brigstocke and Richard Cooksley from IAgrM and Farmers Weekly‘s business editor Suzie Horne.

Where can I find out more?

If you would like to give students the chance to test their mettle on your farm business or estate, please contact IAGRM director Richard Cooksley on 01275 843825 or enquiries@iagrm.org.uk

The Farley estate and the Farmplanner challenges

– The estate

  • 708ha of mixed farmland
  • Seven farmsteads
  • 180 /230 pedigree Holstein-Friesian dairy cows, 2.2m litres production, two groups milked three times a day, third group twice daily through 24/24-herringbone parlour
  • Dairy Crest (Marks & Spencer) liquid milk contract
  • 302ha arable
  • 129ha of woodland
  • 23 residential properties
  • 43,000sq ft of industrial let buildings
  • 243ha grassland
  • Recent livery development – 18 boxes backed by luxury facilities
  • Commercial partridge, pheasant and mixed bird shoot
  • Range of residential and commercial properties to let

– The Farmplanner challenges

Teams were asked to address the following issues:

1. Given that the owner has a desire to retain the dairy unit, what opportunities does he have for its future management and development?

2. What options has the farm and estate for maximising the conservation and environment development while benefiting the whole business?

3. Given the wide range of activities on the farm and estate, what further options do they have and how can they develop the “Farley” brand?

4. What options do they have for added value food- related production businesses?

5. Within the estate are two redundant sites – a farmyard with buildings and an old grain storage complex. What opportunities do they have for these sites?

6. Suggestions for a profitable enterprise that will exploit the relatively large amount of grazing.

– Farley Farms partner objectives

To create a robust, diverse, sustainable business delivering asset growth to ensure income generation for reinvestment offering present and future benefit to the owners.