Farmers Weekly Awards 2019: Farm Manager of the Year

Andrew Robinson is the 2019 Farmers Weekly Farm Manager of the Year.

Constantly striving for the next new thing to grow or implement, Andrew wants to be first to know what will benefit the land and business he manages.

This approach has seen a dramatic reduction in blackgrass levels since his arrival in 2004 – a 31% rise in Group 1 wheat yields and the expansion of a composting business to bring soil improvements and significant extra income.

Sixty trials were run on the farm this year – 23 variety trials, as well as seed rate, biostimulant, fungicide and many other plots.

See also: Meet the 2019 Farmers Weekly Farm Manager of the Year finalists

Andrew Robinson in his office with paperwork

Andrew Robinson © Tim Scrivener

Andrew Robinson

Herne Manor Farm, Toddington, Bedfordshire

Farm facts

  • 1,150ha on Hanslope, greensand and Denchworth series soils
  • Mainly Group 1 wheats, some Group 2, oilseed rape, spring beans, cover crops 
  • 12,000t (at intake) council green waste compost business with PAS 100 certification
  • HLS agreement
  • Manager and two full-time staff, harvest help

The independence of this operation is fiercely protected, and while Andrew works with supply trade partners, no payment is made for the trials.

The farm team decides which trials will be conducted, often at the suggestion of its two full-time staff members, Matt Fuller and Sam Edmunds.  

Andrew and his team do all the work, including the counts and recording.

However, his drive to adopt new methods or products does not extend to having to have all the latest kit.

Kit maintenance
Equipment is carefully and enthusiastically maintained, largely by the farm staff, who are also involved in decisions about replacements, for which a 10-year capital budget is set.  

Daily health and safety checks are a routine, but important, part of a thorough approach to this aspect of management, with the adoption of the “What three words” app this year, which can pinpoint a worker’s location to within 3sq m.

There is also an annual health and safety briefing from an outside consultant.

Shortly after his arrival at the farm, Andrew dramatically increased the size of the composting enterprise from 2,500t/year to the current 12,000t. This turns local authority green waste into a valuable soil conditioner in a 12-week process.

Composting growth
The composting business has great synergy with the farming operation, earning valuable additional income through a gate fee for receiving and processing local authority green waste, which in turn is helping condition and improve the farm’s soils, along with sewage sludge.

The two arms of the business share staff and equipment, helping make efficient use of both.

Whether coming onto or leaving the farm, everything goes over a weighbridge – part of the attention to detail that is fundamental to Andrew’s very thorough, but not uptight, approach.

His average Group 1 wheat yield in 2018 was 11.29t/ha, with 95% of samples hitting the full milling wheat specification.

He takes a measured approach to crop marketing, using a mix of routes, timing, buyers and contract types. The compost business is another risk

Staff are well paid, rewarded with a bonus in October each year and social outings such as go-karting, as well as the opportunity to attend technical events.

Open evenings for the trials attract up to 100 farmers, with many more visiting for farm walks and talks, including several overseas groups.   

Andrew grew up in an urban environment, spending as much time as possible at his uncle’s small beef and sheep farm.

His years at the farm have seen him go to great lengths to communicate information about farming to a wider audience, welcoming local Rotary and school groups, as well as the Bedfordshire YFC rally and giving many talks off farm to non-farming audiences.

Winning ways

  • Fantastic attention to detail in highly profitable crop production
  • Respect for soil, including profitable and complementary compost enterprise
  • Great team spirit and motivation, including four harvest staff
  • Very impressive farm trials – detailed, well-analysed and presented
  • Attention to identifying and managing business risk

A word from our independent judge

“Andrew pays great attention to detail to achieve highly profitable crops, respecting and improving the soil, integrating the composting enterprise into the business and clearly identifying and managing the risks.”
Charles Matts, Northamptonshire farmer

The 2019 Farmers Weekly Awards Farm Manager of the Year category is sponsored by Safety Revolution

The finalists were:

  • Rob Fox
    Squab Hall Farm, Leamington Spa, Warwickshire
  • John Haynes
    Kingston’s Farm, Matching Green, Essex
See more