FW Awards 2009: Farm Manager of the Year finalist – Simon Beddows

The turnaround in the fortunes of Phillimore Farms bear all the hallmarks of Simon Beddows’ careful, considered approach.

This is not a man to do things on a whim – Simon brings the same methodical, rigorous style to his management as he does to his own extensive cropping trials on Phillimore Farms’ 1000ha of arable land.

Simon’s patient, people-focused approach reflects spells on his CV as a farm mechanisation and cropping lecturer at Sparsholt College in Hampshire. It was natural that when he took over as manager at Philliore Farms, he knew the secret to transforming the farming business lay in its staff.

“There was quite a lot of tension in the team and with other members of the estate staff, when I came here, and a lot of confusion about who was supposed to do what.”

Simon took each of his new team to one side to discover what they really wanted from their jobs, what their individual skills were, and to restructure their roles to allow them to play to their strengths. This soon delivered benefits and Simon’s success in rationalising the farming operations with the same team and no staff losses is no small achievement.

But by far the bigger challenge was to tame the farm itself. “When I came here six years ago you could barely see the wheat for the blackgrass and other weeds. The estate looked, as someone put it to me, an eyesore.

“There had been a lot of recreational cultivations and the first thing was to get the soils back into some sort of reasonable working order.”

To get things back into some sort of order, with a small budget for new machinery, Simon’s strategy was for cheap horsepower. Now the widely varying soils – from Thames-side “fen” to Chilterns chalk – receive a pass from a Simba Solo pulled by a Ford Versatile. Already, improvements are visible. “We don’t need to do so deep with the subsoiler tines, and the fields are more even, yields are better and there’s far less water sitting on the surface. We’re on a journey, but we are getting there.”

Simon’s approach in transforming the quality of Phillimore Farms’ arable business has hinged on taking logical steps, identifying problems and devising a carefully thought-out strategy for improvement. It’s the same approach he brings to his agronomy.

“The first thing I had to tackle was the high weed burden, not helped by poor soil conditions and an aged machinery fleet. Every year we hold on-farm trials to explore how we can use chemicals better. Mulitple applications of glyphosate are key. “I rotate herbicide use so nothing gets applications of the same active ingredient in the same year.

“I set a budget and then my aim is to always come in below it. I check figures monthly and quarterly for the estate’s trustees and accounts, but I’m running my own analysis of how I’m doing all the time.

But Simon’s quiet, unhurried nature belies his impressive achievements taking the message of farming and food production into local schools. “Promoting British farming and engaging with the public is a passion of mine.”

Simon has effectively used local media to get farming’s message across – both through writing articles and taking part in multimedia projects like podcasts. He conceived a dedicated food and farming marquee at the local agricultural show to demonstrate basic farming facts to children, and has taken tractors into local schools as part of the Year of Farming and Food. But he’s passionate that his message isn’t just about food production, but about how farming can tackle climate change too.

“Agriculture currently stands at a crossroads. We have to prove that we can produce food efficiently while looking after and improving the natural environment. Globally, food production will become increasingly important in the next 10 years and UK agriculture has to be fit for purpose.

“We are currently a producer of commodity crops. To continue, we need to look to producing crops with fewer oil-based inputs like nitrogen fertiliser and agrochemicals. This is our number one challenge and by investigating different cropping rotations and techniques to reduce our dependence on oil, we are also reducing our carbon footprint.”

Farm facts

  • Phillimore Farms: 1000ha estate between Reading and Henley on Thames.
  • Arable enterprise on 800ha
  • 70ha contract farmed for neighbour
  • Cropping includes forage maize and millet
  • Picked up local agricultural society awards for best arable farm in 2005 and 2007.
  • Machinery costs slashed.
  • BASIS, FACTS and BETA registered.
  • Introduced GPS soil mapping

What the judges said:

“Simon has carefully considered and managed risk very well, in financial budgets, agronomic trials and machinery structure. His real passion for Phillimore Farms is very apparent.”

Key achievements

  • Rationalised machinery fleet
  • Re-organised farming team
  • Instituted own agronomic trials


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