Each year a past Nuffield scholar is honoured for the use they have made of their Nuffield experience: the Steven and Gill Bullock Award recognises those who, in the past 10 years, have used their learning and experience from a Nuffield Farming Scholarship to grow their business, develop their careers and make a contribution to the industry at large.
A cash prize of £1,000 is awarded at the Nuffield Farming Conference, which is to be held this year on 25-27 November at the Europa Hotel, Belfast. Farmers Weekly takes a look at the three finalists competing for the 2015 award.
John Yeomans is a man with a mission: to change the way sheep and beef carcasses are graded in the UK.
An upland beef and sheep farmer, John farms 115ha near Newtown in mid-Wales with his wife, Sarah.
John has pioneered the use of data and systematic breeding to raise the performance of his livestock, achieving significant improvements in key carcass characteristics such as percentage of lean meat and size of rib-eye muscle.
However, he grew frustrated that the standard “Europ grid” carcass classification system, which focuses on hindquarter shape and fat cover, did not adequately reward farmers for improvements in carcass quality.
So in his Nuffield study, John set out to find something better.
During his travels he studied automated carcass classification systems based on video, X-rays and physical probes and returned convinced of the need to establish a new carcass classification system in the UK that would eliminate subjectivity and properly reward producers who delivered what the market wanted.
However, convincing a conservative meat industry to change its ways is no easy task.
Over the past eight years, John has travelled the country giving talks and lobbying meat industry leaders, inspiring many to take a serious look at how carcass classification could be improved.
The Steven and Gill Bullock Award
The award is given in memory of Steven Bullock, who managed the Farmers Weekly farms from 1963-1988 and then became a director of the Nuffield Scholarship scheme.
The judges were Stephen Fell, chairman of Leaf; Michael Jack, agriculture and food adviser to HSBC; and Karl Schneider, editor of Farmers Weekly.
For more information see the Nuffield website.
He has worked hard to bring together industry players and it is a tribute to his leadership skills and powers of persuasion that he has managed to corral representatives of supermarkets, processors and other meat industry players into meetings to identify how best to move forward. The Welsh government now looks set to fund a major study to identify the best options.
As well as pushing for a fairer way to grade carcasses, John has also helped Welsh livestock farmers raise their game so that they will benefit from improvements to the grading system. He was appointed a director of Meat Promotion Wales, which has given him a platform to both promote his carcass grading message and raise awareness among producers of the techniques available to improve carcass characteristics.
John was chairman of Nuffield Wales from 2009-2012 and, with colleagues, has built up a thriving regional group in which producers share their experiences and successful practices.
He regularly invites other producers on to his holding to share his experience of data-driven performance improvement and other innovations. He is also involved in a three-year study of the benefits of mob grazing.
A sheep and beef farmer from the north of Scotland, John used his Nuffield scholarship to study how improvements in herd health can boost farm profitability.
One of the things he learned from his travels was that the best farmers know what they are good at and don’t try to do everything themselves. So he has contracted out his crop-growing, leaving him free to focus on the livestock.
John believes in applying the latest technologies and ideas to improve his business. All his pedigree breeding flocks are performance-recorded and he is currently working on using grassland management to cut production costs.
Another idea that impressed John during his travels was selling rams on-farm, rather than transporting them to markets. Over the past four years he has built up his own on-farm ram sale, which has now become a firm fixture in the local agricultural calendar. This year 100 rams were offered. Rams are produced for the sale with minimal inputs – they are not fed up on concentrates ahead of the sale and are presented in their “working clothes”, rather than prettied up.
Having built up the ram sales, John is now extending the idea to lambs. He has doubled the amount of land he farms over the past few years and increased ewe numbers to more than 4,000. This year his first on-farm store lamb sale saw more than 2,000 head sold.
John’s success in improving and growing his sheep business was recognised last year when he won the title Sheep Farmer of the Year at the 2014 Farmers Weekly Awards.
He has done more than apply his Nuffield experience to improve his own farm, seeking to make use of the insights he gained to help raise the profitability of livestock farming in Scotland
John is in the second year of a four-year term on the board of Quality Meat Scotland, chairing QMS’ Scottish Sheep Industry Group, where he has focused his attentions on animal health and grassland quality.
He has also been asked by Richard Lochhead, the Scottish government’s cabinet secretary for rural affairs, food and the environment, to head a group looking at how to improve the prospects for sheep farming in Scotland.
“We have a generation of farmers focused on subsidy,” he says. “We need to change that.”
Sara is passionate about the benefits of grass, which she calls the UK’s most important crop.
In her Nuffield study, Sara looked at how livestock farmers could be encouraged to make better use of this valuable resource.
Sara is not a farmer – she runs her own marketing communications business, with a string of clients focusing on grassland farming.
Since returning from her Nuffield travels, Sara has written hundreds of articles, press releases, training modules and newsletters promoting the benefits of good grassland farming. She is an active member of the British Grassland Society, speaking at meetings and for many years editing its quarterly magazine, Grass and Forage Farmer.
In 2013 Sara became a director of the Pasture-Fed Livestock Association (PFLA), which encourages farmers to finish cattle and sheep on grass and forage crops – using techniques such as mob and rotational grazing and herbal leys, which she saw in Canada during her Nuffield travels.
At the PFLA Sara manages communications both to farmers, to increase the supply of pasture-fed meat, and to butchers, retailers and consumers to build demand. She was also responsible for the development, design and launch of the PFLA’s Pasture for Life certification mark.
Educating farmers on the value of the grass they grow, and how to make the most of it, has been an important part of Sara’s work. Getting them to measure grass is the starting point. “Few grassland farmers actually know how much grass grows in their fields, or how the amount differs throughout the year,” she says.
Sara has worked with the livestock specialists at AHDB Beef and Lamb to produce handy manuals on pasture management, silage production, clover, soils and grazing strategies. She also helped to set up and edit the AHDB Beef and Lamb Grazing Club digital monthly newsletter, which offers advice and case studies.
In 2009 Sara set up a mentoring programme, BGS Grazing Partners, to train successful grassland farmers to coach those with less experience. The programme ran for three years, generating 60 mentoring partnerships. Although this is no longer running, Sara still firmly believes in the principles behind it and is looking for ways to relaunch the scheme.