Surprise winners scoop Farmplanner prize

A team of part-time students romped to a memorable Farmplanner of the Year victory in a close competition, deemed the tightest in the event’s 27 year history. 

The Riseholme College team won over the panel of judges, including bankers, agronomists, farm managers and the Great Tew Estate’s owner, Nicholas Johnston, to lift the silverware.

See also: How to diversify agricultural land: building to rent or sell

The Institute of Agricultural Managers’ (IAgrM) Farmplanner of the Year final pits three colleges against each other to produce a viable business plan to improve the profitability and resilience of a real farm or estate.

The five students in the Riseholme team (left to right above), Ruby Squire, Thomas Wilson, George Mills, Harry Needham and Ivory Arden, impressed farm manager Colin Woodward with their identification of and solutions to one of his biggest headaches.

“The guys focused on our cropping issues – in particular the threat posed by cabbage stem flea beetle [CSFB] to our oilseed rape crop,” Mr Woodward said.

The winning business plan

  • Companion cropping to counter CSFB issue
  • Change to zero tillage
  • Buy a colour grain sorter to help capitalise on the Egyptian consumer market
  • Start agri-tourism enterprise based on a 9ha lavender plantation
  • Four shepherds’ huts sited among the crop, priced at £175 a night
  • Sell lavender oil into a premium candle business

To counter the loss of neonicotinoids and the rise of CSFB, Riseholme proposed using companion cropping with berseem clover, which the farm manager said he would look at implementing on the estate in the future.

“All of the teams gave us ideas to make improvements on farm, including a John Deere link to add value to our machinery operation and to buy a chaff jet system to give us more precision,” he added.

Diversification potential

The competition, however, swung on the estate’s potential as a location and a brand for diversification.

Runner-up suggestions for adding additional revenue streams to Great Tew included a vineyard, deemed to be at the wrong altitude, and an oat milk production business, deemed too expensive.

But Mr Johnston said the winning idea of a lavender agri-tourism enterprise fit perfectly with the ethos and brand the estate was aspiring to.

“As a business we are looking both at ideas that can improve our profit and loss but also, in an uncertain political climate, what can add value back into the land itself,” he said.

“We need to be able to farm in a future with less subsidies and support and for me the lavender enterprise was the best fit.”

Mr Johnston added that the idea capitalised on the 38m visitors who travel to the Cotswolds each year and offered the business a chance to scale up after entering the market with low initial start-up costs.

Great Tew Estate facts

  • Near Chipping Norton in the Cotswolds
  • Roman estate dating back to the third and fourth centuries
  • 1,481ha comprising 895ha arable, 330ha pasture and 226ha woodland
  • Main crops are winter wheat, winter barley and OSR
  • UK’s only ironstone quarry onsite
  • 60,000t grain processing facility