Award winners share their farm plans for 2018

The 2017 Farmers Weekly Awards winners have all had plenty to celebrate over the past 12 months not least picking up a trophy for their hard work.

Here we ask some of them to share their reflections on 2017 and what they have planned for their farm business as they move further into 2018. 

Some are planning on increasing their workforce or investing in new kit while others are looking at strengthening their culling policies, considering new foreign markets or how to put in place their succession strategy.  

Arable farmer: Shaun Watson, Northumberland

Shaun Watson

Shaun Watson © Jim Varney

Looking back at 2017…

Looking back over a fantastic year – not just winning the Arable Farmer of the Year award – we had a great harvest and a successful first calving.

We concentrated on establishing the farm we bought in 2015 with new sheds, a new private access road and modernisation of the farmhouse.

We have learned over the past two years that youngsters from a non-agricultural background struggle with the work-life balance – and on completion of the apprenticeship, they leave.

Looking ahead at 2018…

We will be looking to increase our workforce in 2018 with a qualified person who is up to date with current technology and livestock management.

My parents are going to relocate to the new premises in spring and will be taking a quieter approach to the business – leaving me, my wife and my brother taking on more of an active role.

We have invested in a larger tractor for the fleet and we are introducing iPads for the tractors to keep field records up to date on a daily basis.

Learning from on-farm YEN [Adas’s Yield Enhancement Network] trials, we are taking a different approach with fertiliser in the coming year.

With Brexit approaching, we are updating our equestrian facilities with a new arena and horse solarium and working to increase our cattle herd.

After a productive harvest in 2017, we will continue with the same strategy, fine-tuning as we go. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Beef farmers: Paul and Dwynwen Williams, Conwy

Paul and Dwynen Williams

Paul and Dwynwen Williams © Richard Stanton

Looking back at 2017…

2017 was an amazing year for us here at Cae Haidd. Having won the Welsh Grassland Society’s All Wales Big Bale Silage Competition (receiving the award at the Royal Welsh Show back in July), our year culminated in winning the coveted Beef Farmer of the Year award at a prestigious event at the Grosvenor House in London.

Such awards go a very long way in strengthening our belief that our long-term goal of improving the farm business output and profitability is being realised.

Looking ahead at 2018…

We will have completed our targeted expansion of the suckler cow herd by early 2018.

The resulting additional numbers of store cattle means that shed space is now at a premium, and so further investment in a new store cattle building is inevitable.

Keeping one eye on Brexit, major decisions on changes to our sheep enterprise and further diversification projects are on the cards.

Dairy farmers: Neville and Suzanne Loder, Dorset

Neville and Suzanne Loder

Neville and Suzanne Loder © Hugh Nutt

Looking back at 2017…

We have learned that the way we have set up our grass-based dairy business is very resilient in the face of volatility of the milk price – even when the milk price is low, we are still able to make a profit and reinvest.

This has been achieved by means of a tight 10-week calving block and improved fertility, with a 5% empty rate over 10 weeks.

We have also grown more quality grass by paddock-grazing and recording grass growth and have reduced feed costs to 3p/litre.

Looking ahead at 2018…

We are starting milk recording to identify the cows that are not profitable because of either poor milk solids or poor yield.

Our aim is to have a herd of cows each weighing 480kg and producing 480kg of milk solids.

 We are doing 455kg solids a cow and aim to achieve this improvement by culling the herd’s bottom 10%.

Diversification: Jonny and Dulcie Crickmore, Suffolk

Dulcie and Jonny Crickmore

Dulcie and Jonny Crickmore © Tim Scrivener

Looking back at 2017…

Our cheese sales went crazy in 2017 and even though we have now got a team of cheesemakers, we can’t make it quickly enough.

This meant we had to get better at managing a bigger business and have had to put in new systems.

It seems time-consuming, boring and slow – but when you’ve got lots of people who all think and act differently, it’s important to put processes in place to avoid mistakes.

It has been difficult to get my head around this as I’m (Jonny)used to doing the work myself, but that’s not possible any more.

I also like doing all the physical stuff on farm, but it’s hard to fit that all in while trying to be a manager and allowing room to think of new ideas.

Looking ahead at 2018…

This year we are going to be putting up a new building that should help us deal with the increased orders of cheese.

We have already got a customer in Singapore who owns a cheese shop and restaurant and we are going to look at whether China might be another opportunity.

Specialist crop producer: AC Goatham & Son, Kent

The AC Goatham & Son team

The AC Goatham & Son team

Looking back at 2017…

We have really learned the importance of having the right team in place this year.

Despite a challenging growing season – frost on the blossom – we were able to fulfil our orders and we even expanded our farms from 22 a year ago to 27.

We have continued to look back at where we have been and look forward at where we want to get to.

Looking ahead at 2018…

We are continuing with our planting programmes on new farms and replacing orchards on our existing farms, using modern growing systems.

With Brexit on the horizon, we are also very mindful of the need to continue to focus on being a fantastic employer so that our seasonal workforce have a workplace they want to come back to – this includes providing good accommodation, training and facilities.

We will also be looking at how we can work with other farms to share ideas on how we can manage a seasonal workforce to ensure we are able to continue to harvest our fruit.

Sheep farmers: Pip and Matt Smith, Cornwall

Matt and Pip Smith with their son Dusty

Matt and Pip Smith with their son Dusty © Jim Wileman

Looking back at 2017…

We have learned an incredible amount about certain areas of our business. So far, this has mainly been in the deer unit where we’ve found out what works best for our conditions, for example, weaning and stocking rates with our mixed deer and ewes through the year. One thing is for sure we will never stop learning unless we choose to.

Looking ahead at 2018…

First things first, do our wills. We feel it’s an important part of our children’s future and the farms. The farm has been in Pip’s family since 1703 and we don’t want to be the ones that loose it due to bad planning and selfishness.

We are grateful succession has already taken place so we can do our best to build a business that can cope with change what ever that may be.

We will be going into 2018 with an open mind and will look at anything that may improve our business. And as for Brexit, our guess is as good as a politicians, so hold on.

Farm manager: Chris Baylis, Lincolnshire

Chris Baylis

Chris Baylis with his team © Jim Varney

Looking back at 2017…

The highlight of my year was winning the Farm Manager of the Year award, which was great recognition for all our team and payback for the emphasis that our company puts into staff training and development.

In fact, 2017 was an excellent year for the business, despite a harvest of mixed results.

Good cost control and successful marketing enabled us to exceed our year-end forecast by some margin.

Hopefully this was proof that all the changes we have made over the past five years have been worthwhile.

Reviewing our strengths and weaknesses and aligning our fixed overheads proportionally is now paying off, enabling our business to be more resilient against market volatility.

Looking ahead at 2018…

As we enter the new year, the first major change we will see on farm is the end of our 10-year Environmental Stewardship Scheme. We are already in the process of designing a suitable follow-on agreement, which will hopefully retain the fabric of the estate and all the good work that the existing scheme established.

Although it is at these times that it becomes all too easy for us to make clouded judgements based on the current level of uncertainty within the industry, I feel we need to remain fully committed to our long-term business objectives and review our short-term strategy continually as we go.

Mixed farmer and farmer of the year: Robert Neill, Roxburghshire

Robert Neill

Robert Neill © Angus Findlay

Looking back at 2017…

During the past year we expanded our business by taking on the tenancy on a neighbouring farm. This extra block of land means that we now have a good balance of arable and livestock enterprises within our farming business.

The extra farm steading will also allow us to house most of our cattle throughout the winter.

Looking ahead at 2018…

We are planning more changes on the new block of land.

We currently cannot use a diet feeder because the shed roof is too low and so we are going to make adjustments to the shed layout to make feeding more efficient in future.

Our livestock enterprise relies heavily on technology and data gathering, and with the growth of our arable enterprise we will be looking to investigate the use of precision technology to improve efficiency in this area.

Contractor: Russell Price, Herefordshire

Russell Price

Russell Price © Richard Stanton

Looking back at 2017…

A year ago who would have thought that annual weather would have been near on perfect during the busy spells, weak currency would keep commodity prices high but push new machinery prices the same way, that expansion opportunities continue to present themselves and RPFS would win the Farmers Weekly Contractor of the Year Award. In conclusion, a very successful year. 

Looking ahead at 2018…

We all know the future is unclear in a world dominated by Brexit and although our business aims to be fit and ready to adapt, we also have to remain focused on being positive, continue to invest and innovate and set standards high as well as motivating  and developing the staff for the journey ahead.

Let’s be proud of our industry and sell it home and abroad at every opportunity and enjoy the adventure of 2018.

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