FW Awards 2009: Arable Adviser of the Year finalist – Steve Cook

It has been a challenging year for Hampshire Arable Systems’ Steve Cook. After the untimely, sad passing away of HAS founder Alan Bide last year, Steve, along with fellow agronomist Stewart Sinclair decided to buy the firm from Alan’s estate.

“We could have formed a new company, but wanted to keep the good name of Hampshire Arable going,” he says.

It is doubtful his clients have noticed any difference in the service they have received from Steve, despite his extra commitment.

Walking about 8000ha across 35 farms in six counties, he is just about at the limit of the area he can cover, he admits. “I did hit 30,000 acres for a while a few years back to cover maternity leave, but it was too much.”

To grow the business Steve is transferring existing clients to Stewart, depending on location and where all parties are happy for him to do so. “Stewart’s ambition is to get to 20,000 acres, too – he is up 1200 acres already this year.”

That helps him both increase Stewart’s area and take on new clients to grow the overall business, with the aim is take on a trainee in the next 3-4 four years. The arrangement is working successfully, he says. “We’ve had no complaints or lost any clients in doing so.”

It also helps Steve keep fresh – he likes new challenges. Many agronomists would have walked away from looking after niche crops, such as sunflowers, millet and naked oats, as he does at Richard Smith’s Street End Farm in Bishop’s Waltham.

Not Steve. He thrives on being able to give his clients good practical advice and allowing them to ask him anything. “Some of them refer to me as the ‘Oracle’,” he says.

Organisation is another strong point – it needs to be advising on such a large area. He uses a spreadsheet to log farm visits, and tries to block book four or five farms in a particular area for a visit in a day.

Recommendations are usually made up to three weeks ahead where possible, he says, but the planning starts much earlier. “We usually start discussing spring fungicides in October, with likely programmes roughly arranged by February, and then adjusted to farm or field just ahead of time.”

Decision-making is made after extensive analysis of options, both technically and for cost-effectiveness, the latter helped through Steve’s role as technical adviser for the Crop Advisors buying group.

Keeping his growers informed technically is crucial, he believes. “My philosophy is that the better the farmers are informed and understand, the more likely it is that operations are timed and carried out correctly.”

Time with a client is also important to delivering good advice, he says. “It gives me a better understanding of a client’s business helping to tailor advice to the farm.”

As well as agronomy, Steve provides advice on cultivations and soil management, and helps with NVZ and crop assurance requirements. “I like to be on-farm for inspections.”

It is typical Steve. As one of his clients who nominated him wrote: “In summary, technically superb, always available for advice, totally discreet and offers a complete service from N-max to variety choice. He’s also a thoroughly nice chap.”

Business facts

  • Provides agronomy advice, legislative support plus other services
  • Field walks over 8000ha
  • 35 clients spread across six counties in SE England

What the judges liked

  • Steve is a real professional. His attention to detail is first class, whether providing agronomy advice or legislative support. His clients are probably among the best prepared in the country when it comes to red-tape form-filling and inspections. Undoubtedly a top-notch agronomist, he applies his knowledge and experience to any situation, however small.

Three achievements

  • Taking over the reins of Hampshire Arable Systems
  • Brilliantly preparing his clients for changes in legislation
  • Producing a comprehensive crop costings booklet helping rotation planning


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