Waddesdon Farms, Buckinghamshire
Sponsored by Claas
Generally, traditional farming estates don’t like to experience radical change. So it takes a special kind of individual to lead it. And that’s just what Alastair Brooks has achieved in just four years at Waddesdon Farms.
As the first manager farming Waddesdon in-hand for many years, Alastair is under no illusions about what’s expected of him. “If I can’t make it work here, then we would probably go back to being run by a large farm management company.”
That would be enough to remind most farm managers that, despite the challenges that farming throws in your way, they’ve got to remain good enough to meet them head on.
But “good enough” isn’t really the benchmark expected by Lord Rothschild at his private estate in Buckinghamshire. And while not an agricultural enthusiast himself, “The Boss” expects his farms to perform to the same high standards he demands elsewhere, says Alastair.
And Alastair has proved he is more than equal to the task. His talent is to maintain a grasp of detail without losing sight of the bigger vision.
“Historically, this had been run as a traditional, mixed-farming estate. Until recently there were 600 dairy cows in three units and all were sold on the same day. The estate I came to was going through an immense amount of change.
“There was a big soil compaction problem when I came here, but by changing the cultivations strategy we’ve begun to rectify it.”
His cropping policy has shifted to concentrate on milling wheats, with oilseed rape, beans and spring linseed as breaks.
Alastair’s grasp of detail in this business means he can put a figure on almost any input or output from the top of his head. “I can drill right down into our accounts, to every machine and every field.”
Alastair’s style is to “deal hard, but fair”. “I trade something, one way or another, every day. But a deal is only a deal when both parties are happy. There is always another day.” Even so, he’s unfazed by negotiation and drives a hard bargain.
Alastair’s attitude is: “You’re either in it or you’re not”, and there’s no doubt about the strength of his commitment to Waddesdon. It’s a passion he shares with his team of six. “I have a fantastic team here and my farm fitter is a man who, if you gave him a housebrick, would somehow make it run.”
Alastair trained at the Royal Agricultural College and has worked in management roles in Wiltshire and Warwickshire. But it’s clear he considers Waddesdon the culmination of his career.
• Predominantly arable with 700 ewe lambs, 80 Simmental suckler cows and followers
• ELS and Countryside Stewardship
• 1740ha, plus 162ha contract farmed
WHY HE WON
• Excellent management information
• Combines big vision with grasp of detail
• Leads from the front
Alastair has proved that he can manage huge change very rapidly and his achievement is truly impressive
The skills of a good farm manager are wide ranging and the role goes far beyond what the title suggests. Alastair is a worthy winner and a fine ambassador for his profession.
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Jake demonstrates technical expertise and a willingness to experiment with anything new in terms of agri-environmental management, and this is integrated successfully with the farming business