Farmers Weekly Awards 2020: Mixed Farmer of the Year

Esther and Henry Rudge, Ballingham Court, Herefordshire

Esther and Henry Rudge show a strong aptitude for business, actively looking for new opportunities that will benefit their diverse farming unit.

This, combined with their focus on the environment and their local community is why they are extremely worthy winners of the title.

Farm facts

  • Mixed beef, sheep and arable farm
  • Beef sold to Waitrose, achieving top-10 status
  • Apple and pear orchard selling to Copella and Abel and Cole organic box schemes
  • Presses own apple juice and sells from honesty box
  • Range of renewables, including AD plant and wood kiln

Esther Rudge made the bold decision to take on her family farm when she was just 16 years old, and now runs a thriving mixed beef, sheep and arable farm with her husband, Henry, and son, Monty.

Located in the beautiful Herefordshire countryside, the family team farms 173ha and shares the vision of building a business that prospers without subsidies and enhances the environment.

Their thirst for farm diversification and ability to follow market trends has also lead them to develop a successful orchard, glamping business and renewable energy enterprises.

They operate a strategic and open business plan, making the best use of resources, which has earned them the title of Farmers Weekly Mixed Farmers of the Year 2020.

Improved efficiency

As the Rudges are extremely customer driven, the family decided to enhance efficiency of their 200-head beef unit by changing suckler breeds from Friesian-crosses to Stabilisers.

This improved the quality of their finished animals due to the excellent marbled meat produced by the Stabiliser breed.

Two Hereford bulls with estimated breeding values in the top 1% are also used, which has improved calving ease.

A calving jack has not been used on the farm for the past two years, with calves weighing just 35kg at birth.

Calves are weaned at a minimum of 50% of their mother’s weight and sold fat from 16-20 months of age, under contract to Waitrose on the Hereford beef scheme, averaging £1,231.

The family always achieves top-10 supplier status and won this year’s producers category.

Due to the onset of two family illnesses in 2018, sheep numbers at Ballingham Court declined, but this didn’t stop the family farming its 174 Aberfield ewes efficiently.

The same principles of the cattle were applied to the sheep, where the family changed the breed to a smaller ewe, producing the same amount of lamb for less input.

Ewes lamb in February to a NZ SufTex ram, with lambs sold by the end of June, averaging £94. The family now hopes to expand the flock to 300 ewes.

In addition to this, the family works closely with its vet, using vaccination where possible to sharply cut antibiotics use.

Each enterprise is thoroughly reviewed and benchmarked through Reading University.

Diversification

In 2007, an 8ha apple orchard was planted, selling apple juice to Copella. The family now also presses, bottles and sells its own value-added juice from its farm lane and to glamping visitors.

After a niche market was spotted, a small 3.2ha organic pear orchard was planted. The family harvests the pears and sells to various organic box schemes, primarily Abel and Cole.

Looking to further future-proof the business, an 80kW anaerobic digester was set up in 2016, running at 92% efficiency and managed by Monty.

Inputs of the plant consist of 35ha of maize, which is grown on farm, and poultry litter from a local farm.

A new macerator has been purchased, which will allow farmyard manure to be used, reducing the reliance on maize.

Environment

The family also runs solar panels, sells its own kiln-dried firewood and has a firm interest in the environment, planting hedgerows, woodland and flower margins.

It also has a strong connection with the local community and hosts several farm visits each year.

Winning ways

  • A thirst for farm diversification, which focuses on the environment
  • Market savvy, with all enterprises benchmarked through Reading University
  • Excellent beef unit, with effective cattle-marketing strategies
  • Actively search for new opportunities, niche markets and trends
  • Enthusiastic and proactive family approach, with a clear and open business plan
  • Excellent connections with local community

A word from our independent judge

“The Rudge Family are inspirational, their ambition and drive is evident in every enterprise they are involved in. Esther, Henry and Monty are all individually fantastic farming ambassadors for their region and beyond.”

Matthew Curry, general manager, North East Grains

Other finalists were:

  • Tom and Julie Davies
    Upper Court Farm, Herefordshire
  • James Small
    Warren Farm, Somerset

Read about the finalists

The Farmers Weekly 2020 Mixed Farmer of the Year is sponsored by Massey Ferguson

Masey Ferguson

At Massey Ferguson, we are passionate about the future of farming. With nearly 170 years of innovation and experience, we supply straightforward, dependable farm machinery.

Farming has never been more challenging, but the long-term prospects are bright. Massey Ferguson continues to play an active part in shaping the future of agriculture and we value the opinions of farmers as they face the challenges of balancing profitable businesses in a sustainable environment. We are focused on developing equipment and technology to help boost productivity.

We fully understand the pressures associated with running a modern mixed farm and we are very proud to sponsor this category.

Farmers Weekly Awards 2021

Enter or nominate today

Farmers Weekly Awards 2021

Enter or nominate today

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