Farmers wouldn’t be able to do what they do without the help and support of dedicated, professional suppliers.
Whether it’s supplying feed, fertiliser or chemicals, or any one of countless other products and services from software systems to animal medicinal items, such individuals and companies provide the raw materials that keep farming going.
It’s a competitive sector and one where prices are always important, but the best suppliers, as well as offering farmers great value for money, also offer fantastic support, advice and aftercare.
The relationship they have with their customers and clients are long and mutually beneficial – they are vital business partners to the nation’s arable and livestock producers.
Such allied trades and professions also represent a key component of the web of businesses that make up our diverse rural economy, providing employment and exciting career opportunities.
Little wonder, then, that Farmers Weekly wanted to once again celebrate the nation’s best suppliers in our 2019 Awards.
We asked all of this year’s farmer finalists to nominate the supplier that, in their view, played the biggest part in helping them to achieve their success – and why.
While the credit goes the whole firm, we also gave the farmers the opportunity to give a mention to any one person in particular – a great individual within a great team who they deal with day to day.
A panel of Farmers Weekly journalists then deliberated over the entries to produce this shortlist. Congratulations to these five companies.
Star performer Phil Shephard, buildings material buyer
Nominated by North Farm Livestock, finalist, Pig Farmer of the Year
North Farm Livestock says:
AF Group has expertise in all the core inputs – fertiliser, seed, crop protection, feed, fuel and machinery – and acts as a one-stop contact point for most of our purchases. Service levels are strong with a quick turnaround on orders.
The team have the purchasing power to allow us to benefit from consolidated pricing, getting the best possible deals while reducing office administration. We use multiple services including energy, seed, insurance, telecoms, general supplies and fuel.
Owned by its 3,500 members, the group has a £274m turnover and buying though it has given us more time to focus on managing our business and what we do best – producing outstanding free-range pork!
As part of the Waitrose supply chain, we currently finish 1,700 pigs every week for BQP.
Plans to raise that number to 2,500 involve taking on new sites and AF’s building team – and in particular Phil Shephard – are delivering the infrastructure for this project, ensuring materials are on-site only when needed and helping manage a smooth cashflow.
Agronomy, seed and crop protection, precision farming supplier
Star performer Steven Gate, agronomist
Nominated by James Turner, finalist, Mixed Farmer of the Year category
James Turner says:
Time is one of the most valuable assets a farmer has – and a great adviser is one who can save you time.
I’ve worked with Steven for the best part of two decades, and his insight saves me hours of research, thinking and decision-making time every week.
This translates to better performance and revenues, plus allows me to focus on strategic changes, such as altering breeding in the dairy herd, putting up a 2,000t grain shed and pursuing the strong environmental credentials.
Steven supplies most of my arable and grassland inputs, as well as supporting me with advice, planning, budgeting and recording. He has also developed cereal, fodder and grass trial sites on the farm.
His crop-walking has removed the burden of me constantly having to monitor for weeds and disease, his recommendations are excellent.
As someone managing arable, dairy and sheep enterprises, my time is always at a premium, so support from Steven, who immerses himself in clients’ businesses and offers astute, practical support, is vital.
Star performer Richard Greasley, key account manager
Nominated by Becci Berry, finalist, Dairy Farmer of the Year category
Becci Berry says:
Richard has been an essential “constant” on this farm and his historical understanding has been crucial to my ability to keep taking the business forward.
He has been a great sounding-board, helping me optimise the performance of the 160-cow dairy herd, mainly from a nutritional perspective, but also from a management one.
We’ve moved from Holstein Friesians to a cross-bred herd to improve cow longevity and the herd now averages just over 9,000 litres of milk, with milk from forage of about 3,300 litres.
This was at 3,800 litres before the drought of 2018. The aim is to get this back to the pre-2018 level and closer to a 50% of milk from forage target.
Despite last year’s drought, Richard helped us maintain our calving index at 368 days. We have monthly on-farm meetings and, as a result, have made many changes to our grassland management, along with work on tracks, access and water supplies.
He is a fantastic supporter of farmer-to-farmer learning and has provided great study tours to Holland.
Agronomy and inputs
Star performer Tim Atkins, commercial support manager
Nominated by Andrew Robinson, finalist, Farm Manager of the Year
Andrew Robinson says:
Good communication is at the heart of a productive relationship with suppliers – and communication is something in which Tim Atkins excels.
He knows farming is never a 9-5 job, so he’s flexible, always available when I need him and we frequently swap evening and weekend texts, calls and emails.
Tim has really pushed our business forward, by helping us select better products and offering advice readily and impartially.
Ours is a partnership rather than a simple supplier/customer relationship and, as margins and actives come under ever-more pressure, so this will become increasingly important.
There’s no one silver bullet to maximise yields and profitability– it comes down to appropriation of inputs and making sure that all the little things add up.
Group 1 wheat yields have grown 31% from 8.62t/ha from when I joined to the current five-year average of 11.29t/ha and we’ve achieved big increases in OSR and spring bean yields. Meanwhile, 95% of milling wheat loads make full spec.
Tim also currently sponsors me in the Adas YEN competition.
TGM Software Solutions
Provider of software and electronic tag-reading hardware
Star performer George Megarry, director
Based County Down
Nominated by Roger and Hilary Bell, finalists, Grassland Manager of the Year
Roger and Hilary Bell say:
Enhanced performance needs decisions based on robust, detailed information.
We have driven improvements in our sheep enterprise through monitoring and analysing daily liveweight gain, twin versus single performance, draft weight, days-to-slaughter, carcass weight and kill-out percentage.
Select Sheepware, which we started using in 2012, plays a vital role in this – and George has worked with us to make the program easier and quicker to use.
We can compare grazing patterns and systems, plus batches of ewes and lambs. The software also ensures we are up-to-date with documentation.
Our ability to eliminate bolus use, based on the information the software provided, has saved us £1,000/year. TGM is crucial in helping us get the most from our farming system.
We sell 1.79 lambs a ewe on average and, in 2018, lambs achieved daily liveweight gains of 317g from birth to weaning, with an average weaning weight 33.7kg from grass alone.
The firm is a true partner and George’s service and determination to deliver the best quality product is second to none.
The Farm Supplier of the Year 2019 category is sponsored by Jelf
“As experts in agriculture with over 60 years in the farming community, Jelf is proud to sponsor the Farm Supplier of the Year, highlighting the unique dedication and services provided to farmers ”
Chris Lewis, branch director