2012 Countryside Farmer of the Year: Rob Allan

Since taking over the farm management reins at Upton Estate near Banbury 13 years ago, Rob Allan has transformed the profits and sustainability of this attractive arable estate. His ability to take everyone around him on this journey is what impressed the judges in this very hard-fought contest between three outstanding finalists.

Rob set out to stabilise incomes on the estate when he took over and he has achieved that by using environmental schemes, wildlife premiums and a green park venture: “We’ve created a business ready to take on future political and economic challenges,” he says.

His fully integrated approach to farming and wildlife is paying big dividends. Environmental stewardship has helped to boost crop yields, ease management, provide new opportunities for diversification and deliver a wildlife premium of at least £25,000 on this year’s crops.

Farm Facts: Upton Estate, Banbury, Oxfordshire
  • 776ha including 400ha of arable, plus 200ha on two contract farming agreements, 260ha of grass and 110ha of woodland
  • New commercial development heated by a biomass boiler
  • Conference, offices/warehousing and cottage lets, as well as an events field

Forward contracts were an essential part of his plan to stabilise income. He now has wildlife premiums on this year’s crops which include £7/t and £28/t respectively for wheat and oats over the wheat futures base price, and £15/t for the LEAF Marque on oilseed rape.

Taking out lower yielding and difficult to manage areas next to watercourses was such an easy win, he says. Now, 13.5% of available arable acres are in ELS and HLS agreements which, along with the introduction of new break crops, cultivation techniques and independent agronomy, has helped to boost yields on the cropped area by 30% over the past 10 years.

Winning Ways
  • Fully integrates all elements of the business, from biomass to bumblebees
  • Transformed the profits, and sustainability, of the estate
  • A key influencer and driver of change

The introduction of environmental schemes has been a key part of his plan to stabilise incomes. An HLS agreement, producing payments of £90,000 a year as well as attracting capital works, has enhanced the estate’s infrastructure and improved production efficiency, while dramatically increasing wildlife.

Flower-rich margins complement adjoining crops, which are home to a burgeoning population of butterflies and bumblebees. “Scallops”, which are patches of bare soil bordering the woodland, have been cleared to provide habitat for butterflies, moths and solitary bees.

“If you need convincing that integrating farming and wildlife really does pay, then Rob Allan is the man to do it. Not only does every crop on the estate attract a wildlife premium, but the integration of farming with the environment is providing the estate with a vibrant, and sustainable, future.”
Geoff Sansome Natural England

A new green business park is another essential component in Rob’s plan to stabilise incomes for the estate and fully integrate the resources at his disposal. The 4,600sq m commercial park is heated by a woodchip-fired biomass boiler and hot water is pumped using solar electricity.

He has developed a very close team, which includes the owners, trustees and employees. And it is clear that there is enormous respect and trust on both sides. Rob believes that “putting the best people in the right place delivers huge success”, which is why he has also forged close working relationships and partnership with many external organisations.

And in his four children, Rob is clearly building an entrepreneurial succession. They set up a partnership with a £5,000 loan, invested in sheep and have built up a flock worth more than £20,000 – all while paying rent to the Estate.

Sponsor’s view

NWF New“Caring for the environment is at the heart of our business. That is why we are so delighted to support the outstanding innovation and commitment of these three finalists.”
David Warrington, managing director

 

Finalists

Andrew HughesAndrew Hughes
Trinley Estate, Finkley, Andover

Maximising profit from the most productive land of this estate and a profitable storage diversification has allowed Andrew to indulge his passion for the environment. He has replaced lost habitats and encouraged the local community to enjoy them.

Andrew BrownAndrew Brown
Fairchilds Lodge, Caldecott, Leicestershire

Andrew is a high-profile champion of farming’s role in enhancing the environment. This passion drives his 252ha mixed farm, home to birds, bats and butterflies. He’s a key industry influencer, sitting on numerous committees and councils.

More on this topic

Keep up with all the news from the 2012 Farmers Weekly Awards