Farmers Weekly 2006 Awards

Henry Lewis is the Cepravin Dairy Farmer of the Year. Here’s why he won:

Looking after 400 cows producing 11,000 litres of milk a year is not an easy job, but it is one that Henry Lewis relishes.

By his own admission, the Herefordshire dairy farmer was “green as green” when he first started milking cows over 20 years ago. “I didn’t even know what the dry cow period was. I was like a sponge soaking up new ideas. Of course, I made mistakes but I learned from them.”

Since then, Henry has built up his herd from just 20 cows to 400. Such expansion brings problems, not least animal welfare and environmental issues, but he is adamant that his cows and the countryside should not suffer in the search for yield.

During the scorching weather this summer, large fans were installed in the farm’s cubicle sheds to ensure the cows kept cool and a ground-breaking reed-bed dirty water filtration system was built four years ago to ensure only the cleanest water reaches the environment.

All of this exemplifies Henry’s attitude to farming and his awareness that agricultural production is more under the microscope than ever before. “I believe farmers have a social responsibility to educate the public while producing top quality produce that is of the highest welfare, hygiene and environmental standards to protect our industry and create a positive future for generations to build on.”

But none of this can be achieved without profits. To keep costs to a minimum Henry is always looking for savings, whether that means linking up with a factory to source cheap sawdust for bedding or using human food by-products to supplement the herd’s rations.

But his biggest skill is probably his ability to step away from the business and look at the bigger picture and see what previously underutilised opportunities might be available. This led to the difficult decision to dissolve the family partnership in 2003 and put all of the debt from the family’s two farms on to Tack Farm.

While much of his success is self-generated, Henry is not afraid to take advantage of the expertise available to him, expertise he actively seeks out. An influential speaker at a dairy conference inspired him to switch to three-times-day-milking, which boosted yields considerably, and he has built up a strong team of consultants, accountants and financiers, not to mention his own staff, to help develop the business.

In 2003, Henry converted the farm to a company to save tax and make the most of quota opportunities. This saved over £60,000 and generated a significant amount of extra income for the business.

Looking to the future, Henry is biding his time while milk prices remain low. But he reckons his financial planning means he is in a good position to ride out the slump and will consider investing in a new parlour when prices improve.

He hopes that one day one of his young children will want to take over the business. “I’m just a custodian of the land looking after it for the next generation.”

What makes him a winner?
• One of highest yielding herds in UK
• Innovative use of by-product feedstuffs
• Welfare – quick action to cool cows during scorching summer
• Bold decision taker – changed farming system, dissolved family p/ship
• Thinks outside box – makes money from quota/traded away set aside
• Grew business from 20 to 400 cows
• Constructed innovative reed bed dirty water filtration system
• Team player – not afraid to take advice from professionals and involves staff in decision making
• Public aware

Runners-up:
• Peter Jack, Normandy Farm, Blandford Forum, Dorset
Standing still is not an option for Peter despite hitting the big six-O; he produces premium milk for Waitrose on his 200ha tenanted farm

• Richard and Heather Gibson, Nether Wood Burn Farm, Tiverton, Devon
You have to take your hat off to this couple who have built their high performing 130-Holstein herd from next to nothing

Back to full Farmers Weekly Awards 2006 listing