Farmers Weekly Awards 2019: Innovator of the Year

Neil Fell is the 2019 Farmers Weekly Innovator of the Year.

The return of sheep scab and resistance to injectables means dipping is back in vogue, and Durham-based contractor Neil Fell is the man who hundreds of UK farmers have turned to.

His mobile dipping service is available from Land’s End to John O’Groats and dominates a somewhat niche market, thanks to an ingenious home-designed plunge dipper.

Since starting in 2013, he has managed to double his sheep numbers almost every year and is on course to deal with 300,000 animals this season, making him one of the foremost sheep-dipping contractors in the country.

See also: Meet the 2019 Farmers Weekly Innovator of the Year finalists

Neil Fell with a sheep crush

Neil Fell © Jim Varney

Neill Fell

NR Fell Mobile Sheep Dipping, Nafferton Farm, Brancepeth, Durham

At peak efficiency, he can soak more than 4,000 ewes a day, providing an efficient response to the worrying revival of scab issues among British flocks.

Reducing sheep scab
Neil has become a trusted specialist on the subject, giving potential customers advice on parasitic issues.

He has been working closely with the Environment Agency, Natural England and the Welsh Dee Trust to introduce new industry safety standards and has been involved in the process of forming an accreditation scheme for contract plunge dippers.

Five things that make Neil Fell 2019’s Innovator of the Year

  1. Designed novel hydraulically powered, lorry-mounted plunge-dipping system
  2. Revolutionised working standards for operators, and improved sheep welfare and environmental safety
  3. Established nationwide dipping business and doubled sheep dipping numbers every year since 2013
  4. Set new dipping standards with support from key national bodies
  5. Established used dip disposal process via waste management company

Innovative dipper
Central to his business is a patented lorry-mounted plunge dipper that he designed after seeing portions of chips being dunked into oil at his local chip shop. It uses a remote-control cage system to lower batches of 12-18 sheep into the scab-clearing liquor.

Animals are herded up the rear walkway into the cage, which is then lowered using a winch into the 1,000gal tank of Bimeda Gold Fleece (diazinon) mix.

Their feet remain on the cage floor for most of the time, which reduces stress compared with traditional dunking methods, but they are totally submerged twice in a minute to make sure the dip fully covers them.

The animals then move to a rest area, with a gentle slope to take drippings back to the main tank, before leaving through one of the hydraulically powered gates.

Waste dip is transferred to on-board tanks and carted home – for which Neil has a waste carrier licence – where it is stored in a 20,000-litre container for almost a month. During this time the chemicals break down to the point of being non-hazardous, and it is then collected by a chemical treatment firm.

The Farmers Weekly Farm Innovator of the Year category is sponsored by The Co-op

“Open-minded, adaptable, analytical farmers with a preparedness to learn have the greatest chance of ensuring their business is fit for the future. Neil has done this fantastically using his passion and innovation to build a brighter future.”
Caroline Mason, head of agriculture, Co-op

The finalists were:

  • Roger and Hilary Bell
    Springmount Farm, Kells, Ballymena
  • John Haynes
    Kingstons Farm, Matching Green, Essex