Farmers Weekly Awards 2019: Arable Adviser of the Year

Alison Cross is the 2019 Farmers Weekly Farm Adviser of the Year.

Alison believes any new post-Brexit farm support package focused on the environment needs to encourage farmers to work together at improving the landscape, similar to her group of Hampshire chalk downland growers.

She has pulled together this group of growers to start planning for a future farming policy which former Defra secretary Michael Gove defined as “public money for public good”.

See also: Meet the 2019 Arable Adviser of the Year finalists

Alison Cross

Alison Cross © Hugh Nutt

Alison Cross

Principal farm adviser with Arcadian Farm Advice, Basingstoke

Fact file

  • 55 client farmers on advisory list across Hampshire and neighbouring counties
  • 15 years in an advisory role with a focus on environmental issues 
  • 5,000ha covered across the Wallop Brook Farmers Group

She says grants should be available to these groups looking to improve water quality, wildlife, soils, carbon sequestration and ecological networks, in addition to existing policy areas such as encouraging arable margins and wild bird food areas.

Her work as principal farm adviser with Arcadian Farm Advice, part of the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, is aimed at encouraging growers towards environmental schemes to prepare for the ending of Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) farm subsidies.

“My motivation is that as BPS goes, the only way to get public money will be to move into these environmental schemes,” she says.

Chalkland landscape
Alison was granted £10,000 a year funding from Defra for a three-year scheme to bring farmers together to help protect the fragile chalkland landscape, while encouraging resilient farming methods that will improve soils and avoid pollution of the gin-clear chalk streams.

The Wallop Brook Farmers group includes 20 growers ranging from 1.5ha to 900ha and covering about 5,000ha of gently southerly sloping land who are trying out new ideas such as grant-aided, low-input cereals and growing cover crops on slopes.

“My reputation is based on coming up with something that can improve the profitability for the farmer,” she says.

Alison has encouraged some farmers into environmental schemes and says she has never had a farmer tell her they have lost money on any scheme.

Her work has included measures to bring back a thriving corn bunting population after sharp falls in numbers, and to reverse declines in soil health on these free-draining downland soils.

Bird survey
Corn buntings like spring cereals and open landscapes, and so Alison has looked to survey bird numbers and then encouraged farmers to create a landscape where they can thrive.

She persuaded one member to enter a mid-tier environmental scheme, something the farmer had never done before, to improve the landscape and protect water quality.

One member of her Wallop Brook growers group is Craig Livingstone, who manages 800ha of combinable crops on the Lockerley Estate close to the brook, near Stockbridge.

The 2018 Farmers Weekly Farmer of the Year is making subtle changes, such as not always topping his field margins and not cutting hedges every year, to encourage biodiversity.

He is trying low-input spring cereals grown on contract at a nearby farm, which attracts support from an environmental scheme. This  crop might yield 5.5t/ha compared with a conventional crop yielding up to 7.4t/ha.

“We are looking at spring wheat and spring barley and we are hoping the gross margin will be better than our conventional spring cereals,” Mr Livingstone says.

Winning ways

  • Has an obvious passion for the subject in which she is an expert
  • Has proven adept at getting local farmers to co-operate and work together to deliver environmental and habitat improvements
  • Acutely award of the need to deliver sound financial performance in conjunction with improved bio-diversity

A word from our independent judge

“The direction of travel of the industry is what Alison is focused on today. Her ability to bring farmers together has enabled great success to date, and will deliver more in the future.”

David Watson, partner at Bidwells agribusiness team  

The other Farm Adviser of the Year finalists were:

  • Ben Giles
    Commercial technical manager at Bayer
  • William Tongue
    Business consultant/partner at land agent Berrys

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