Farm Manager of the Year Finalist – James Thompson

Listening to James Thompson speak is like standing in a wind tunnel of ideas. This is a man who tempers boundless enthusiasm and creativity with a sound commercial mind, meticulous business planning and an ability to inspire others.

At just 27, James has led the development of a major food production business in only three years, and has sole responsibility for running it. Carrington Farms now covers 2600ha (6424 acres) and, with its Danish landowner overseas during much of the business’s development, James had to manage an operation that has doubled in size in just over two years.

A farmer’s son from Wooler, Northumberland, James worked his way through farm management giant Velcourt’s training scheme and, after a spell at Burghley Estates at Stamford, came to Carrington as trainee manager running 1000ha for the previous owner, J Ward & Son Farms.

James Thompson

The business under Velcourt swelled to 1600ha but, after three generations, the Ward family decided to sell the estate. As with so much other Lincolnshire land, it looked the perfect investment for Danish investors and so, in October 2006, Carrington Farms was born.

Buyer Erik Hansen did not arrive in the UK until the following summer, but he had already identified James and the most promising individual to whom to entrust the management of his new business. Mr Hansen describes him as the “key player in our business”. James thrives on extra responsibility.

Above all, the two men share a vision for Carrington Farms. “We work as a team,” says Mr Hansen. “And he has been loyal to me since my first day in the UK.”

James has retained four farm workers and, with others, formed a successful and highly motivated team. “The starting point was to equip with the essentials,” he says. “So I made the decision to buy our Quadtrac – it’s the right machine for our type of system. The worst problem we faced was depreciation by buying everything new. But I bought a second-hand wheeled tractor and sprayer to try to spread the load a bit.”

James Thompson

Many people would be daunted by so much responsibility, but James seems unfazed. He is already thinking about the next, bigger move for Carrington Farms. And you don’t have to look hard to see evidence of James’ character – even down to designing the Carrington Estates corporate logo.

To accomplish so much so soon requires a man of exceptional self-confidence. You sense that James knows this, but he also seems to recognise when confidence begins to look like arrogance, and steers well away from the line.

He’s also a man who knows a business opportunity when he sees one. Carrington Farms is now in its second season, growing about 1000ha of vining peas, broad beans (one of a very few UK growers) and petit pois peas for processor Pingun, a preferred supplier of the leading supermarket retailers.

“I saw a huge opportunity after the demise of a local grower group which had lots of members and tired land,” he says. “I thought that, although it required considerable investment and was not without a little risk, as a single grower we could rent fresh land and supply one customer well, to be as safe and profitable as possible.”

James Thompson

As if all this wasn’t enough, some other Danish investors, impressed by what they saw through Mr Hansen at Carrington, bought 1500ha nearby – and came to James to make it work. Under his direction, Carrington Farms manages the land as a separate business.

Although innovation is never far away, James’ sound farming background means he is also committed to conventional production and increasing yields. While many are turning away from sugar beet, he remains not just committed to the crop but happily ambitious. “I believe I can get 100t/ha in the future from my land,” he says. He is similarly bullish about upping wheat yields, aiming for another 1t/ha “inside two years”.

Above all, James is young, talented and highly competent – a winning formula in any industry.

Farm facts

  • 2050ha owned in six-mile radius

  • 1520ha on management agreement

  • 560 rented in for specialist cropping

  • 110ha stubble-to-stubble contract

  • 10 full-time staff

  • 2 Quadtracs, 1 Challenger, 3 combines, 2 pea viners 3 sprayers

  • What the judges liked

  • Meticulous budgeting and cost analysis

  • Entrepreneurial spirit

  • Creative thinker

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