THIS YEARS” host farm is the home farm of John Giffard”s Chillington Estate near Codsall, Staffs. The whole estate stretches to 1620ha (4000 acres) and Chillington Farm runs to 660ha (1630 acres), most of it engaged in combinable crops and sheep production.

Cropping is fairly mainstream, with 175ha (420 acres) of winter wheat, 40ha (100 acres) of winter barley, 89ha (220 acres) of winter oilseed rape and 62ha (155 acres) of beans. A small acreage of game crops supports an in-house and a let syndicated shoot each year .

There is 150ha (360 acres) of grassland, most of it

UNDER PRESSURE

The aim, says Andrew Blenkiron from Smiths Gore who manages the farm, is to market as many lambs as possible as primestock from the grass, with the rest from fodder crops in the autumn. The sheep work well, but feed costs are putting margins under pressure, he says.

ach year 40-50 boxes of lamb are sold locally, but there may be scope to increase direct sales. The hall already has 1500 visitors a year and that might be increased by extra marketing. A farm shop may then be a possibility, something the students should think about.

Cattle are a relatively small player in the business, with 30 cross-bred fattening cattle and a small herd of Longhorn suckler cows.

As you would expect, there is a certain grandeur to the estate not found on ordinary farms. As well as the hall, there is a large formal lake and a Capability Brown-designed park, not to mention a lot of roads and tracks.

But look at a map of the farm and you will see it is tall and thin, with a lot of fields and multiple patches of woodland. In fact there are 66 arable fields with an average size of 6.6ha (16 acres) and 29 grass fields with an average size of 4.4ha (11 acres). This relatively small field size means field operations will never be as efficient as they would be on big East Anglian units.

It also incorporates five farmsteads, some with contemporary buildings perfectly suited to modern farming, others with attractive, but-agriculturally marginal, 18th century brick buildings.

Some of these have already been converted into non-agricultural uses and bring in useful income to the estate. One of the bigger enterprises is a 20-horse livery business and dog kennels for rescue dogs.

Others unconverted buildings might well make handsome houses, offices or whatever, but the costs of converting them are high and rising. Nonetheless, with Chillington right by the M54 motorway and ideal for road links, Mr Blenkiron is fully aware of the attraction of further diversification.

HIGH PRIORITY

The estate is also typical of its type in giving a high priority to conservation; 17,200m of grass margins have been established and there are 3600m of newly planted hedges and 40,000 newly-planted trees.

Income from Countryside Stewardship, arable stewardship and woodland grant schemes amounted to 45,000 in 2004.

Revenue from contract farming was also important and amounted to 34,000 in 2004. One thing that tends to differentiate estates from farms is that they often have a remit to retain staff numbers and maintain a traditional mix of farming enterprises. So it is at Chillington and Mr Blenkiron says the estate would be very reluctant to reduce the size of the three-man workforce.

So what advice will our nine teams of students (see opposite) come up with for a profitable and stable long-term future for Chillington Farm? You will have to wait until July to get the answer, as that is when the winner will be decided.

Farm Planner of the Year is organised by the Institute of Agricultural Management.