5 minutes with… Farm Manager of the Year Mike Shapland

It’s been a whirlwind few months for the Farmers Weekly Award winners – 15 extraordinary farmers, advisers, contractors and farmworkers who last year received one of farming’s highest accolades recognising their fantastic business achievements.

We catch up with the Farm Manager of the Year, Mike Shapland from Suffolk, to find out what he has been up to since the awards ceremony in October.

See also: Find out what made Mike Shapland our Farm Manager of the Year

Farm facts

  • Manager at James Foskett Farms, Woodbridge, Suffolk
  • Responsible for 880ha
  • Grows 30-plus different crops
  • Manages up to 80 staff

What’s your one tip for anyone entering the Awards to improve their chances of success?

Allow your passion for farming to show.

Most good farmers I meet are extremely passionate about their crops, stock, staff and businesses, and it’s vital to let that sparkle when you are judged.

It can be daunting to be interviewed, I certainly found it so, but it is important to be focused and really promote the strengths of your business.

What’s the biggest challenge your business is facing right now?

Securing the key resource we need to operate our business, which is people.

We require a significant number of seasonal staff to operate our current business model, which involves growing organic vegetables.

We have been very fortunate to retain many of our seasonal staff over many years, but Brexit has added uncertainty for all of us and we expect it to become much harder to attract and retain really good people.

We are trying to improve our proposition as a business by adapting cropping to extend work profiles, improve the quality of accommodation and recreational facilities and, of course, offer good opportunities to earn good levels of pay.

We are also very fortunate to have a dedicated and hard-working full-time team.

Keeping everyone informed and updated regularly with relevant information – from business strategy to the detail of field operations – is crucial to motivation.

What traits do you need to be a good farmer?

Good observation and a good eye for detail. Basically, noticing the small things early.

Flexibility, too – seasons, years and situations are all different and being able to change approach or strategy quickly is important.

Then there’s hard work. It all takes time if you want to do it properly so you have to be prepared to work hard.

Who inspires you?

Can I have three please? Angus Davison – a former boss of mine and a brilliant grower and developer of systems.

Dr Chris Green – a friend who sadly passed away very recently.

He was a very highly intelligent man and brilliant agronomist who always made me strive for the best possible crop performance.

And Laura, my partner, who looks after me, listens when needed and never complains about the hours I work – an amazing lady.

Quick-fire questions

Where have you put your Awards plaque? On the sideboard in the hall at home.

Finish the sentence. Agriculture is… dirty hard work, frustrating, rewarding, and a privilege.

If you were Defra secretary for the day and had the power to make one decision, what would it be? To close the department – probably better if there was less political involvement in agriculture.

 The Farmers Weekly 2019 Farm Manager of the Year Award is now open for nominations and entries at awards.fwi.co.uk

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