5 July 2002

Winning administrator makes best farm better

With foot-and-mouth beaten, the climax of the

Farm Business Administrator of the Year was back at

the Royal Show. Andrew Shirley reports on the final

of this keenly contested competition

SUGGESTING improvements to one of the most professionally managed dairy enterprises in the country is no easy matter, but that was the task faced by the finalists of this years Institute of Agricultural Secretaries and Administrators annual challenge.

The six finalists were asked to come up with a SWOT analysis for Kemble Farms, a large arable and milk unit in Glos running to almost 1000ha (2500 acres) and then suggest ways of developing the dairy side of the business.

To make matters even more complicated, an extensive range of residential properties and farm buildings with conversion potential form part of the holding, and the competing administrators had to devise a scheme to maximise their potential as well.

Despite the stiff challenge, all of the finalists came up with realistic business plans. But in the end it was 42-year-old Rebecca Hill, a freelance administrator from Wilts, who triumphed.

Rebecca, a mother of one, said it had been an extremely tricky exercise, but her proposals for the Kemble Farms property portfolio won praise from the estates manager and director David Ball. Using her local knowledge, she reckoned an equine enterprise would be a good income generator and said the site of an old dairy unit would be an ideal location.

Capitalising on the tourist appeal of the Cotswolds, Rebecca further suggested some of the dwellings on the estate would make good holiday lets. "That is something we have certainly been thinking about," said Mr Ball, who confirmed he also had some form of horse-related development in mind for future plans.

In terms of improving the dairy herd, Rebeccas strategy was to replace all or part of the farms maize silage with whole-crop wheat, while retaining forage peas for home-grown protein. She believes this would result in increased dry matter intake and increased yields.

Mr Ball said it was something he had tried in the past but he preferred to stick with the maize. Although, as Rebecca pointed out, with feed wheat forward prices for this harvest as low as £55/t, maybe it is an option that is worth another look.

Competition runner-up Amanda Swinfen, a 27-year-old administration manager on a Northants livestock, arable and dairy enterprise, saw increasing the dairy herds output as the way forward, and felt conversion of some buildings to offices or light industrial use would be a good way to diversify the estates income stream.

Tim Porter, head of agriculture at the competitions principal sponsor Lloyds TSB, said the ideas the contestants came up with highlighted the evolving role of IAGSA members, who in the past would usually have been restricted to secretarial duties.

"An administrator is now a fundamental part of any farming business. As farmers have an ever-increasing workload, to be able to rely on someone, not just to manage the administration size of their business, but to get involved with business management, is an added bonus." &#42

Farm Business Administrator of the Year 2002 Rebecca Hill (right) and runner-up Amanda Swinfen proudly show off their Lloyds TSB Black Horse trophies.

Winner Black Horse trophy, £750 cheque from Lloyds TSB, Farmplan business software worth £1000, and a years subscription to IAGSA, RASE and farmers weekly.

Runner-up Black Horse trophy, £250 cheque, a years subscription to IAGSA and farmers weekly.

Other finalists A bottle of wine and a set of Lloyds TSB business guides.

Name Kemble Farms Ltd.

Location Kemble, Glos.

Manager David Ball.

Dairy details 511 Holstein- Friesians milked three times daily by six staff working a shift system on a brownfield site with capacity for 600 housed cows. Output 8500 litres/year. Aim is to increase numbers and output.

Property details 43 residential properties; one barn conversion ready to let; old dairy unit with conversion potential; planning consent for a further four residential conversions. Aim is to diversify income stream.

Farm manager David Ball explains the hi-tech milking parlour at Kemble Farms to the finalists of IAGSAs annual competition.