The 2009 overall winner and Farm Manager of the Year, Nick Padwick, is not simply a great farmer – he’s a leader, mentor and champion for the industry.

“It’s only negativity within people that determines whether things get done or not,” says Nick Padwick, a man who clearly doesn’t have a single negative thought or bone in his body.

He wasn’t daunted by taking up the reins of one of the Co-op’s biggest arable estates eight years ago. He grabbed the opportunity; not only delivering a more simplified and streamlined, low-cost arable operation but also creating a national project to educate children about where their food comes from. And somehow he has found time to introduce a harvest recruitment and training programme for the company, too.

For most people the day job, which is managing the Stoughton Estate’s 1565ha of cropping, environmental schemes and grassland as well as 350ha in three contract farming arrangements, would be enough.

When Nick took over at Stoughton he conducted a complete cropping and cultivation review. He simplified the cropping to an oilseed rape and wheat block rotation and then disposed of 90% of the estate’s ageing and very large fleet, releasing £150,000 capital. He reinvested in modern kit and created a machinery pool with another Co-op estate. The success of this share arrangement worked so well at Stoughton, that it has since been adopted elsewhere in the company.

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He clearly enjoys being able to deliver high quality crops as efficiently and profitably as possible and gets a real sense of value when he sees “Own Brand Plain and Self-raising flour on the Co-op shelves made from our milling wheat.”

But it is Nick’s ingrained sense of responsibility for farming, which has resulted in the From Farm to Fork project.

It all started, says Nick, when his sons came home from school with friends who had no idea where their food came from. “Some thought that the wheat was grass, and others that potatoes grew on trees.”

He and wife, Michelle, approached parents and teachers at the local primary school and laid on a class farm visit. Nick planted a 4-acre field with different varieties of barley and wheat, including some very old ones such as widgeon and spelt for the children. In the spring, they see sweet corn, popping corn, rye, peas and beans. One strip is an allotment for the children to plant their own vegetables and “get their hands dirty”.

Michelle made the food chain link with cooking demonstrations, talking about food in the diet and nutrients. She encouraged the children to grind flour from the farm’s wheat to make pizza bases. It was a huge success and as demand for visits grew Nick took the project to a more formal level.

From Farm to Fork now has a £420,000 budget with seven other Co-op farms also taking part. Local Co-op store managers invite schools to visit the farms and now more than 20,000 children have experienced life on a farm.

Nick clearly relishes this side of the business: “I am motivated to manage this farm to the highest possible standard and nothing gives me more pleasure than seeing great, clean crops but also hedgerows and margins full of wildlife. To be able to show children that farming supplies wholesome food in a sustainable manner and leave space for nature is a real privilege.”

His way with people clearly translates to his five full-time staff who wrote glowing testimonials in support of his entry for Farm Manager. “Nick makes Stoughton a pleasant and friendly place to work. We try our hardest for him to make the farm a thriving business year on year,” says his assistant manager, John Farrington.

It’s not just his own staff that Nick feels responsibility towards. Stoughton has become the pre-harvest training centre for 30-40 arable staff recruited for the arable harvest across the company.

And Nick’s uncompromising attitude to delivering high standards stretches into his environmental responsibilities. The estate is in its eighth year of environmental stewardship in which five miles of hedges have been planted. Stoughton is also a Natural England demonstration farm hosting farm walks and meetings.

NICK PADWICK – Stoughton Estate, Leicester

  • Manages the Co-operative Farms’ Stoughton, Leicestershire
  • 1565ha cropping plus 351ha contract farmed for others
  • Farmer’s son from Hampshire
  • LANTRA instructor
  • BASIS and FACTS qualified
  • 2008 IDG Social Innovation Award
  • 2008 Community Partnership Award
  • 2008 Nominated as Farmers Weekly/NFU Farming Champion
  • 2008 Won the Co-op Farms Business of the Year
  • 2008 Completed Worshipful Company of Farmers business course

WHAT MAKES HIM A WINNER

  • Outstanding farm management skills
  • Ingrained sense of responsibility – From Farm to Fork
  • Strong motivator and leader – pre-harvest training scheme
  • Advocate of farming and the role it plays in today’s society
  • Not afraid to challenge the status quo
  • Innovative and inspiring

JUDGING PANEL

  • Sir Don Curry, Government adviser
  • Peter Kendall, President, NFU
  • Jane KingEditor, Farmers Weekly
  • Adrian Ivory, 2008 Farmer of the Year
  • Debbie Beaton, Farmers Weekly