FW Awards 2009: Arable Adviser of the Year finalist – Peter Riley

Some arable advisers walk a big area, and then there is Prime Agriculture’s Peter Riley. While he doesn’t want to divulge exactly how much, let’s just say it is more than most agronomists would contemplate.

So how does he achieve it? First, he has set his, and Prime’s, business up to deal with large farms. He does have some smaller businesses in his client list, but the average size of the 15 farms on which he provides a full crop walking service is about 400ha, with several more than twice that. He also gives strategic advice on five other extremely large farm businesses in East Anglia.

Focusing on fewer businesses enables him to spend more time with each client – during the busy March to June period he typically visits once a fortnight, sometimes spending most of the day at one farm.

Even so, and to free up time for the most important aspects of his role, he recognises he needs some help. That comes in two main areas. First, he employs a scout to help him target which fields need special attention during a visit. “I use him to find where there are problems.”

Second, he brings in other people to help with the more mundane tasks, outsourcing or using expertise from within the Prime team to do, for example, some of the red-tape paperwork for his clients. “My time is more valuable [to my clients] than to spend it on the drudgery of putting together manure plans.”

Instead Peter’s skills are put much more firmly at driving the farms’ strategies forward. “I like to be involved in the management plan for the farm.” His well honed organisational skills help put together strategies that increase his clients’ bottom line. “We’re looking for consistency over the whole farm. On farms of this size increasing the average performance across the farm is the thing that makes the big difference to the bottom line,” he says.

It starts with the rotation. He helps his growers construct rotations that work for the farm’s conditions, in particular using block cropping to ease and simplify workloads.

Soil management is also important. Peter’s knowledge of different types of cultivation equipment is first class and his advice helps match the right equipment to the soil type and the farm size.

Equally crucial is Peter’s organisation of chemical use on farm. “We work closely with Anglia Farmers and AtlasFram on product supply and put an enormous amount of work into planning.”

That starts with detailed analysis of options both individually and in programmes, he says. He uses that information to put together draft programmes in advance. “The danger is that you can get prescriptive, but it is better to start with a plan.”

That planning helps not only save time during the season for Peter, but, more vitally for his growers, allows him to develop a forecast and forward-order chemicals. “It helps them get better payment terms and the chemicals they want.”

Away from his clients’ farms, Peter is keen to engage with end users. He is a director of Crop Evaluation Limited and a member of its barley and protocols committee – something which he believes helps him offer the best advice to his clients. He also talks regularly local buyers in East Anglia.

It all adds up to a very impressive package: technical expertise, sharp business acumen and outstanding organisation skills. It is no wonder Peter is so valued by large farms in East Anglia.

What the Judges liked

  • Peter has developed a business model aimed at large farm businesses that will be the envy of many agronomists. But it is only his excellent organisational and analytical skills that make it work. His attention to detail when working out spray programmes is top notch, but he also brings a wealth of knowledge to making rotations, cultivations and machinery work most effectively for his clients.

Business facts

  • Provides agronomy and business advice to large farm businesses in East Anglia
  • 15 fully-serviced clients plus strategic advice to five more
  • Sits on CEL barley and protocols committees

Three Achievements

  • Providing advice over such a large area
  • Putting together a business model aimed at large farm businesses
  • Developing rotations for large farms to enable them to be managed effectively


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