A team of four students from Dorset’s Kingston Maurward College has won the Farmplanner of the year award for the second time in three years. Suzie Horne reports.

This year’s Farmplanner competition challenged teams from agricultural colleges and universities to find a way of bringing Geoff and Angela Jones’ daughter Clare back to the farm business through a food-based diversification.

Alongside this the family wanted to expand the 320-cow dairy herd by 100 cows and develop the arable business run by son Graham. A long-term succession plan was also called for.

Kingston Maurward’s winning team of Ellen Burrough, Georgie Cossins, Simon Hall and Hilary Hansford proposed a paneer cheese venture and addressed the dairy expansion by extending the parlour, slurry store and cubicle housing. Extra labour would be provided by an apprentice working four days a week in the dairy unit.

The arable enterprise would lose ground through expanding cow numbers so contract farming additional land was suggested to keep the arable acreage at a realistic level. However, with risk in mind, the aim would be to do this with no extra machinery or grain store investment.

Paneer is a south Asian cheese used widely in cooking. With almost 29% of the population local to the farm having an Asian or Asian British background the Kingston Maurward team suggested this was a great opportunity to make a link between an authentic Asian product made with British milk.

The Yennards Farm 
Farmplanner challenges

Geoff and Angela Jones’ daughter Clare wants to return to the farm and set up a standalone complementary enterprise adding value to farm produce.

What food-related business would teams recommend, how would it be funded and add value to the overall business?

The family want to increase cow numbers by 100 head. What investment will be needed alongside changes in cropping, land management and staff?

How can the arable business, run by son Graham, be developed?

What succession/equity partnerships planning would teams recommend so the farm continues to grow profitably?

This would begin as part of the farm business and once it became profitable after three or four years should be ring-fenced into a limited company for tax purposes, proposed the winners. Cross-ownership of all enterprises between family members would help everyone pull together.

Set-up costs for the new venture were kept down by taking a cautious approach, suggesting second-hand equipment and using coolboxes rather than buying a van from the start.

The other finalist teams were Harper Adams University and Bridgwater College. “We were hugely impressed by the standards of everyone,” said the Institute of Agricultural Management’s Tim Brigstocke. Barclays’ national head of agriculture Martin Redfearn was particularly impressed by Kingston Maurward’s mature and sensitive treatment of the succession issue.

While other colleges suggested ways to divide the assets, the Dorset team identified that as each family member has different passions and interests, careful management would be called for to ensure each was satisfied in what they did.

They flagged up family and business management issues which needed consideration. For example, how Geoff’s legacy and dairy management knowledge would be passed on, recognising the importance of herdsman Gavin Howard and suggesting incentives and changes to reflect this as well as how Geoff and Angela should let go of the business so that their children were in a knowledgeable position to confidently take on their roles.

They also recognised that the risk of divorce between the children and their partners should be considered and that tax planning must be balanced with commercial risk in the new venture.

“The standard was very high but Kingston Maurward stood out, their plan was more in line with what we were thinking,” said host farmer Geoff Jones.

“Their succession section stood out for all of us as being more complete. It also showed the importance of staff and that succession is not just about handing on assets but maintaining a viable business.

“Harper Adams put in a lot of work and identified the limiting factor of land area and that we can’t go beyond a certain point without bringing in forage. They also showed that a bigger dairy could work but not necessarily through the grazing route.

“Bridgwater challenged me most with their robots plan – I’m still to be convinced that there’s a workable grazing system that you can run with robots.

“We really enjoyed being involved in the competition, it was very rewarding to see the enthusiasm of the students.”

The Jones’ daughter Clare works for a food business contracted to a main retailer and is considering how she might return to the farm. “I was always going to go into yoghurt production but it’s been really good to have someone to challenge that,” she said.

“Bridgwater suggested soft cheese and I would just say that you really need to understand that market and how you make your product stand out in a crowd.”

Harper Adams’ off-site production idea for an A2 drinking yoghurt was a good one because it reduced risk but the plan needed to understand how that would grow and develop, said Clare.

“Kingston Maurward really challenged us and that’s the reason they came first.”

Farmplanner of the Year – what is it?

  • Run by the Institute of Agricultural Management (IAgrm)
  • An estate or large mixed farm is chosen as a case study
  • Teams visit so they can prepare a business development plan
  • Finalist teams present their cases to the judges
  • Aimed at students at agricultural colleges and universities
  • Judges: Jones family, Piers Costley of sponsor Farmplan, Tim Brigstocke from IAgrm, Martin Redfearn and Steve Brown of sponsor Barclays and Farmers Weekly’s Suzie Horne

Who entered?

  • Bridgwater College, Somerset
  • Bishop Burton College, East Yorkshire
  • Derby College, Derbyshire
  • Hadlow College, Kent
  • Harper Adams University College, Shropshire
  • Kingston Maurward College, Dorset
  • Myerscough College, Lancashire
  • Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne
  • Plumpton College, Sussex
  • Reading University, Berkshire

Host farm: The Yennards Farm, Earl Shilton, Leicestershire

  • Arable and dairy farm run by the Jones family – Geoff, Angela and son Graham
  • Dairy staffed by Geoff Jones and herdsman Gavin Howard full-time, Angela part-time, arable staffed by son Graham and tractor driver/stockman Warren Stanley
  • 320 dairy cows (320 Holsteins crossed with Fleckvieh, Scandinavian and KiwiCross breeds), 220 replacements, 2 bulls
  • 28ha permanent pasture ELS/HLS low input, 24ha short leys, 20ha long leys plus surplus grazing paddocks (two silage cuts)
  • 50ha maize silage, 133ha wheat, 70ha oilseed rape, 46ha oats
  • 2,000t grain storage, 15t/hour dryer
  • 280 cubicles, 21/42 parlour, feed store, five months’ slurry storage, 2,200t silage clamps, straw yards, new calf housing planned, no surplus buildings
  • Soil type: medium loam to heavy clay and good drainage although 12ha of meadows can flood

The runners-up entries

Bridgwater proposal

  • A new cheesemaking business – Yennards Farmhouse Soft Cheeses to be sold at farmers’ markets, delis and other local shops
  • Expand the dairy to 400 cows and introduce robots from grass
  • Adopt direct drilling on some of the arable ground
  • Phased asset handover with Clare given a share of the business but Graham ultimately to have a higher share, reflecting the years he has already put into the business

Harper plan

  • Expand to 580 cows run as a split spring and autumn calvers
  • £670,000 investment to build 260-cow cubicle shed, 200-head youngstock shed, two silage clamps and extra slurry storage, predicted payback of seven years
  • Increase full-time staff to six – current herdsman, two assistants, two farmworkers and a relief milker
  • Bonus incentive to ensure continued performance and health of herd once Geoff and Angela retire
  • Risk removed from arable enterprise in return for extra dairy forage crops
  • Contract pig rearing as a fallback if rented land is lost and the dairy herd decreases, which would use surplus buildings
  • Diversify into production of an A2 drinking yogurt sold into high-end supermarkets, production initially outsourced until brand is established
  • Two scenarios for splitting farm assets

Could you be next year’s host?

If you would like to give students the chance to test their mettle on your farm business, contact IAgrm director Richard Cooksley on 01275 843 825 or enquiries@iagrm.org.uk