Farmers Weekly Awards 2021: Arable Adviser of the Year

Kieran Walsh, Velcourt Advisory Services, Gloucestershire

Kieran Walsh is a role model for other agronomists and how they should be working with their farming clients.

For Kieran, crop agronomy isn’t just about walking fields and recommending an agrochemical to his customers. It’s about a whole-systems approach that focuses on maximising crop production and soil health at the lowest sustainable cost.

He is trying to reduce his clients’ reliance on chemistry by focusing on and setting up strategic decision-making to ensure the best chance of success. This encompasses regenerative practices, cultural controls, data monitoring, as well as non-production-based income streams.

Hands-on approach

Raised in the Gloucestershire countryside, Kieran worked as a farm manager and sprayer operator before he caught the bug for crop agronomy.

Client farm facts

  • 22 clients, ranging from mixed farms – mainly beef and dairy – to arable estates
  • Gives advice on and walks 6,200ha of land covering Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Wiltshire and Dorset
  • Four ‘strategic’ clients that involves providing agronomy information
  • 30-50% reduction in some clients’ input costs

He was employed as an agronomist by Hutchinsons, before moving to his current role as an independent agronomist for Velcourt Advisory Services. At Velcourt, he provides arable advice to 22 clients in Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Wiltshire and Dorset, ranging from beef and dairy farmers to large arable estates. He also offers strategic agronomic advice to another four clients.

His approach is hands-on, progressive and collaborative, and he is passionate about agri-tech and soil health. He likes to generate innovative solutions, rather than just resorting to a can.

For example, when one client suffered a serious blackgrass problem when growing wheat, Kieran ditched largely ineffective post-emergence herbicide options and switched to cultural controls using an inter-row hoe.

Five other clients have also since bought their own hoes.

“Our reliance on post-emergence grassweed control was achieving less than 10% blackgrass control for a product that was costing about £50/ha,” he says.

“A good cultural method of hoeing crops is controlling in the region of 70% of blackgrass, costing about £13-£17/ha, which is a much more sustainable option.”

Association of Independent Crop Consultants member Kieran has worked with clients to bring other options into cropping rotations, including hybrid ryes, triticale and grain maize to open up new markets.

He is helping them to ensure these crops meet the quality to sell to end buyers at a premium.

Innovator

He is not just looking at solutions that offer immediate benefits, but also those that may yield success in the future.

Kieran managed the agronomy for Harper Adams’ Hands-Free Hectare project and its successor, the Hands-Free Farm – the world’s first fully automated farm.

Meanwhile, he is working with a company to produce an end-to-end farm management suite, which is due to launch on a couple of farms for testing this October.

This will be an interface between different systems on the farm that will “talk” to machinery, record cropping and link to accounts packages.

The real-time farm-monitoring service will provide a digital fingerprint of farming practices and costs.

It will be cloud-based and provide freedom of data to growers, landowners, farm managers, shareholders and, possibly, guest logins for external farm audits.

Kieran is also providing expertise on a new internet of things project to set up one of the first “smart farms” in the South.

Future goals

He wants to continue providing his clients with R&D-led independent agronomy that covers all aspects of inputs and outputs of farming.

He also plans to use precision software and farming platforms that bring value, and farming innovation in the form of autonomous agronomy which, in the future, may combine automated machinery and agronomy.

Winning ways

  • Provides solutions to loss of chemistry and to protect soils
  • Holistic approach to agronomic issues and business solutions
  • Innovative approach developing end-to-end farm management system
  • Forward-thinking and setting the agenda in several different areas
  • Strong relationship with clients and highly valued

A word from our independent judge

“Kieran has applied his talent and expertise to address his customers’ widest issues through seeking systems-based approaches that are outside the normal parameters of crop agronomy. He is a role model for all agronomists to aspire to.”
John Barrett, director of Sentry Limited

Other finalists were

  • Ed Brown, HL Hutchinson, Shropshire
  • Mike Harrington, Edaphos Agronomy, Oxfordshire 

Read more about the finalists.

The Farmers Weekly 2021 Arable Adviser of the Year is sponsored by McCormick

Farmers Weekly’s farming awards celebrates the very best of British agriculture by recognising hard-working and innovative farmers across the UK.

Find out more about the Awards, the categories and sponsorship opportunities on our Awards website.

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