Britain’s Fittest Farmer 2023: Devon qualifiers show strong performance

The first round of the Farmers Weekly Britain’s Fittest Farmer competition kicked off last weekend as farmers from across the south of England and the West Country flocked to the Devon County Show.

Undeterred by the high temperatures and sunny weather, more than 20 competitors went head-to-head at the event, which champions the mental and physical wellbeing of the nation’s farmers.

See also: Judge’s view – From trainer hater to marathon runner

The first of three qualifier rounds saw the competitors face a range of challenges, all designed by fitness guru Tom Kemp and his Farm Fitness coaches.

If you missed out on the first event, there’s still plenty of time to take part in the next two qualifiers, which will be held at the Lincolnshire and Highland shows in June (see “Get involved”).

Comment from judge Tom Kemp

Tom Kemp, head judge and founder of Farm Fitness, oversaw the challenges on the day with his team of coaches, and was ready to encourage the competitors at tricky moments.

Tom Kemp

© Richard Stanton

He said: “We’ve seen some tough contenders so far.

“We’ve prepared three tests – one is strength based, one is a test of speed, and one is a test of stamina and endurance – the competition is very much an all-rounder.

“So far everyone has got through the workouts and we’ve seen people return from previous years that have come back stronger and fitter this year, so that’s always great to see.”

For those planning on attending the next qualifier rounds or thinking of getting involved, Tom says: “Enjoy it – it’s all about self-improvement at the end of the day and it’s about how important it is to stay fit and healthy and not just focus on the farm all the time.”

Contenders at Devon

Emma Ashley, 34

Hertfordshire farmer’s daughter Emma Ashley returned to the competition for a third time, after being crowned women’s champion in 2020.

Emma Ashley

© Richard Stanton

“When I came in 2021, I met such a nice group of girls in the final,” she says. “It’s so nice to be able to bring everyone together with a shared experience.

“Fitness is so good for my mental health and I really want to be able to promote that within farming – it is so important and means a lot to me.”

Undeterred by the hot sunny weather, Emma breezed through the running segment, but found the running challenge played to her strengths, while the strength-based tasks were more difficult.

“For me, the weights were the toughest part,” Emma says. “I’m quite little so I find the weights hard, but it’s so much fun and I’ve really enjoyed myself, even though it’s challenging at the same time.”

Jon Lunn, 39

Seasoned BFF competitor Jon Lunn, from Sherborne, Dorset, is competing for the fourth time, but says that his experience doesn’t make the competition any easier.

Jon Lunn

© Richard Stanton

“They change the course a bit every year,” he says.

“This year has been just as difficult, but it is always good fun and there’s a good rapport between competitors cheering everyone on.”

Working on farm and as a contractor, and hay and straw merchant, Jon says that he doesn’t do anything out of the ordinary to prepare: “I’ve just rocked up,” he jokes.

“It’s always nice to see people from the same industry, and people that I’ve known from the events over the past couple of years.”

Sophie Scott, 31

Keen runner Sophie Scott from Crewkerne, Somerset, works on a farm rearing cattle and piglets and is also a part-time personal trainer and running coach.

Sophie Scott, Britain's Fittest Farmer contestant, running at the first qualifier in Devon

“It’s my first time competing at Britain’s Fittest Farmer, so I didn’t really know what to expect,” says Sophie.

“I’m a runner myself, so I was definitely better at the cardio than the weightlifting.

“It was tough, but also good fun, and my Farm Fitness coach really helped to keep me going, she was awesome.”

Sophie is a keen advocate for the mental health benefits that come from physical exercise, and first got into running to improve her own mental wellbeing.

She says: “I used to have quite bad anxiety and got down quite a lot – that’s how I got into running in the first place. I find that running really helps to build me up and it’s such a nice community to be a part of.

“It’s always nice to meet like-minded people that share an interest in fitness and farming.”

William Gardiner, 24

Young farmer Will Gardiner, from Windsor, Berkshire, works on a farm in Holyport managing cattle and producing hay and haylage for local equestrian yards.

William Gardiner

© Richard Stanton

In his second year taking part in BFF, William says: “The running is always a challenge, but I did better this year than I expected to.

“I usually lift weights, so the second round was the part that I enjoyed the most.

“The mental health benefits are a kind of by-product that you don’t really realise until post-workout, when you get that endorphin rush and you feel good.

“When you’re doing something like this, every other trouble goes away and you have to focus on the physical challenge.”

Britain's Fittest Farmer contestant lifts tyre

© Richard Stanton


Share your wellbeing wisdom for a chance to win £150

Everyone – whether they’re BFF competitors or not – can still help to champion mental health and wellbeing with the Farming Community Network’s (FCN) FarmWell Award.

Join the conversation today to inspire your fellow farmers and be in with a chance to win a £150 Amazon voucher.

Simply tag Farmers Weekly and FCN on Instagram and TikTok with a short inspirational video showing how you look after your mental health and wellbeing, and raise awareness in your community. is a one-stop resource created by FCN to help you and your farm business stay strong and resilient through changing times.

It takes a proactive approach in providing guidance for building personal and business resilience, with tips on how to get through stressful situations and what to do in different scenarios.

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