FW Awards 2009: Young Farmer of the Year finalist – James Price

James Price insists he is not a risk taker, yet his pioneering spirit has led him into some innovative ideas which have seen his margins grow year on year.

At his arable and composting business at Perdiswell Farm, Woodstock, Oxfordshire, he is breaking new ground on some pretty challenging Cotswold Brash soils.

The 30-year-old has been farming with his parents under the family name D V H Price & Son since returning from college 10 years ago. His father, Malcolm, had farmed just over 500 acres of combinable crops using a traditional plough-based tillage system and in the past seven years they have taken on more adjoining land through tenancy for the Blenheim Estate and contracting.

James switched his cultivations strategy to a non-inversion tillage programme four years ago in an effort to cover the ground quicker with a better seed-bed and increase his profits by saving on labour. Since then he has had considerable success with spring and winter barley, beans and oilseed rape.

Velcourt is on his doorstep, which makes the expansion into neighbouring farms a significant achievement. It speaks volumes about his ability to win the trust and confidence of others.

Three-quarters of the land James farms is now rented and good landlord relationships are crucial to his success. Altogether he now manages 1600 acres with just two part-time staff employed.

James is willing to try new methods and technologies all the time. He is using coffee waste from a Kraft factory in Banbury to fertilise his soils by mixing it with straw and then spreading it on to land before cultivating. Last year he mixed about 8500t of coffee on four sites over a 25-mile radius earning £2/t and achieving a turnover of £66,196.

Yara also employs him to fit and maintain the N Sensor as well as train farmers to use it to target inputs better. This sideline generates a small income, but allows James to apply his interest in computers and his people skills in a constructive way.

“It is fascinating to get out on to other farms and spend time with managers, owners and operators and I really enjoy the challenge,” he said.

“My focus has been to grow the farming business, but also diversify.”

Technology and machinery are a big passion and James admits he likes buying the latest equipment. “We like toys,” he said. “It is a shocking way to run a business, but we do get good value out of them.”

The farm and his kit are all kept in immaculate order and one did get the impression this was not just for the benefit of the awards judges. Everything he does is with precision right down to using Google maps to understand his soils better.

James grows milling wheat on a Warburton’s contract through Openfield and for the 2009 harvest is installing a weighbridge at a cost of £15,000. Last year’s investment included an £80,000 new grain store.

The entire Price family is committed to ensuring they farm with the environment in mind. James’ mother, Margaret, is a keen birdwatcher and gardener and his sister, Vicky, is an agri-environment adviser for Natural England; therefore, he dare not take short cuts.

James’s professionalism extends to employing a farm consultancy firm to advise on business performance. He is also keen to get BASIS and FACTS qualified and has recently joined LEAF. His father is still heavily involved in the finances, although James admits this is something he must take more seriously.

“When I was at school I wanted to be a pilot,” he said. “But I’ve grown in confidence and love farming. It’s not all about the money. You’ve got to enjoy it as well.”

Farm facts

  • Arable, composting and precision farming
  • Two part-time staff
  • 1200 acres owned, rented and contract farmed plus 400 acres in an arrangement with neighbout

What the judges liked

Paul Davies, vice-principal of RAC, Cirencester:

  • “An impressive and intelligent farmer with strong technical ability and creative ideas.”

Adrian Ivory, Scottish beef farmer and FW Farmer of the Year 2008:

  • “He has built it up by taking on neighbouring farms. Considering his neighbour is Velcourt, then it is impressive that the landlords have chosen him as the tenant.”

Three achievements

  • Well organised, extremely tidy and expanding farm business
  • Tries new methods and technologies
  • Uses coffee waste to improve soil fertility