Sponsored by British Sugar

WINNER: Russell Armstrong, Coldham Estate, Cambridgeshire

Every farmer knows they should cut their energy use, not just because it’s green and it reduces their carbon footprint but because diesel and electricity are becoming very expensive inputs.

But actually getting on and doing something practical about it is a different matter. And the bigger and more complicated your farm, the trickier it often is to find a way of cutting energy use without harming the smooth-running of the business.

So the fact that the winner of the 2009 Green Energy Farmer of the Year award happens to run an incredibly large farm is even more impressive.

There are no half measures, here either. The Co-operative has set itself the tough target of cutting energy consumption across the whole organisation by 25% by 2012. It has also committed itself to generating 15% of the total energy it consumes by the same date.

But Russell Armstrong, the farm manager at Coldham, is going about the task with gusto. It’s a big project because it’s a big farm – 1523ha (3760 acres) of grade 1 and 2 silts (two-thirds of it irrigated) that grow potatoes, onions, shallots, broccoli and sweetcorn, as well as more mundane crops like wheat, sugar beet and oilseed rape.

The first thing you see as you approach the farm are eight 2MW turbines. Each is connected to the local grid, so the power is used locally – including on the farm itself. Seven more are due to join them next year.

That’s impressive enough, but it’s the energy-saving projects that are having the biggest influence on the day-to-day running of the farm. Electricity to power the irrigation pumps is being reined back by fitting the motors with inverters so, rather than spinning at full speed all the time they run at lower rpm.

Rain guns have been changed for booms, which run at lower pressures and hence boost pumping efficiency. Pumps will soon be switched on and off by a simple mobile phone rather than manually, too, saving vehicle mileage and fuel.

Mr Armstrong has also thought long and hard about energy use when it came to upgrading Coldham’s grain, potato and onion stores. Cheaper-to-run modulating gas burners, energy-saving differential thermostats and lights that can be switched on and off in sections should cut energy use by 60% in the grain store. Likewise, in the potato store, inverter drives on fans and fridges and thick insulation will trim power use sharply.

In the field, minimum tillage and GPS autosteer are having a big effect on diesel use.

Will he hit the 25% target? Mr Armstrong is confident he will – and if he doesn’t, it won’t be for want of trying.

Russell-Armstrong-main

FARM FACTS

  • 1523ha growing wheat, beans, potatoes, salad vegetables, onions, shallots, broccoli, runner beans and sweetcorn
  • Eight 2MB wind turbines, seven more due to go up in 2010
  • Changes to irrigation pump motors are enabling significant cuts in energy use

WHAT MAKES HIM A WINNER?

  • Determination to meet some truly challenging energy-reduction targets
  • Despite the size and complexity of the farm, he showed he was able to tackle small energy-saving projects as well as big ones
  • Motivated farm staff to come up with their own ideas

SPONSOR’S VIEW

  • What was most impressive was the green approach adopted by The Co-operative. Russell Armstrong showed how efficient planning and optimising systems can deliver great cost savings and environmental benefits. Paul Bee, British Sugar

INDEPENDENT JUDGE

  • Russell has made energy an intrinsic part of the culture of the Coldham Estate. Nothing, large or small, has escaped assessment. Russell shows that a lot of small things can make a big difference both financially and environmentally. Richard Crowhurst