2011 FW Awards winner: Farmer of the Year

Charlie Russell

Glenapp Estate, Girvan, Ayrshire

What makes him a winner?

• Challenges the status quo and perceptions of upland farming

• Determined to succeed and “be the best”

• Motivates and inspires those around him

• Outstanding business and management skills

• Strong leadership skills


Charlie Russell is an exceptional individual. It takes a brave man to apply for a farm manager position on a 5,000-acre estate at the age of 24 and an even braver one to then completely change the farming operations of a well-established family estate.

It would have been easy 10 years ago, when he joined the Earl of Inchcape’s Glenapp Estate in Ayrshire to simply make some fine adjustments to the mountain ewe flock, improve the shooting and tweak the traditional suckler herd.

Instead, he ignored the perceived limitations of upland grazing and persuaded the directors of the estate to invest in a multi-million pound project to introduce a dairy herd half way up a mountain, created a home-bred elite health suckler herd and converted a traditional upland block into grazing for an easy-care wool shedding, performance recorded, sheep flock.

Yet this was the man the directors felt, at 24, was just too young and inexperienced to be given the run of the whole estate. They employed him as farm foreman, but within a few weeks it was clear that he was more than man enough for the job of estate’s factor and manager.

Since then he has transformed the estate’s farming operation, starting with the suckler herd which is now a home-bred blend of performance recorded Beef Shorthorn, Aberdeen Angus, Luing and Simmental bloodlines.

All heifers calve at two years old and the calves grow at a minimum of 1kg/day from birth to weaning. The calves are block-weaned from mid to end of October, when the mature cows are turned on to the hills to graze on the heft fenced heather, where they are wintered on deferred grazing and minerals. “This increases the biodiversity and improves the hill grazing for the sheep’s benefit in the following year.”

And the 4,500 sheep flock has also undergone a transformation; Charlie no longer lambs 2,000 mules in sheds, but has created an easy-care, outdoor lambing system by cross-breeding traditional upland and New Zealand sheep genetics. The ewes are smaller, which has increased efficiency and potential stocking density. As well as the benefits of easier management, the lambing period is shorter by six weeks, average lamb weights are up by 1.7kg a head and wintering ewe costs have been slashed by 60%.

The most impressive development at Glenapp must be the dairy, where he has converted 405ha of beef and sheep grazing to an intensive paddock system, and built a 70-point rotary parlour and associated stand- off areas. The cross-bred Jersey and New Zealand Friesian grazing dairy cattle are block-calved between early February and late April and dried off in mid-December.

The herd average is 18.5 litres a day. He sold his first milk in February 2010 and has budgeted to sell £700,000 of milk this year off a minimum purchased feed system. The margin over cost of production is what makes this enterprise so exciting: “We have a land base here where we can run a milk-from-grass system and we’ve established a dairy herd at £1,000 a cow compared instead of £6,000-7,000.”

The dairy has also created four new jobs on the estate. As well as the suckler cows, sheep and dairy, Charlie manages a high-yielding arable unit, a commercial forestry and amenity woodland and a sporting department employing three full-time gamekeepers, which he describes “as producing recognised conservation benefits alongside 40 or more so days of world-renowned sport”.

He is also using the wilderness of the estate to create tourism opportunities with “catered-for” lodges on the estate as well as 40 other estate properties.

He has turned parts of this mountain wilderness into productive grazing, which demonstrates a strong commercial vision. But he also recognises the national importance of the habitats he manages including 1,493ha [17%] of the Glenapp and Galloway Moors Special Protection Area. He works closely with Scottish National Heritage to maintain and enhance the biodiversity of this SPA by controlling bracken and grass, creating wetland, restoring heather, creating nest areas and recording wildlife.

New woodland plantings, fencing off streams and rivers, collecting and recycling rainwater, increased slurry storage and 10km of cow tracks to protect soil structures are just some of the myriad of environmental measures he has implemented in recent years.

Alongside the South Ayrshire Council and local rotary clubs, he has established a coastal walk, which winds its way through the estate.

Charlie describes himself as leading from the front: “At Glenapp we aim to be the best and employ the best, but I never ask or expect someone to deliver the impossible or something I wouldn’t do myself. I set realistic, but achievable targets that can be measured,” he says.

The staff managing each department on the estate understand the budgets associated with their enterprise, the key performance indicators and any diversions from those goals. Staff meetings are held weekly for the dairy, arable and property enterprises and monthly for sheep, sucklers and sporting departments.

Charlie is a born leader – and clearly has an ability to take people with him. He sits on various committees, including the Scottish Beef Cattle Association, a Scottish Sheep strategy group, local Rotary club as well as the local coastal footpath group.

Among the many goals that this ambitious and larger-than-life character wants to achieve is to encourage the next generation and create a clear career path for young people.

“I am discussing with other like-minded employers transferring seasonal staff between us to give individuals permanent employment and grow their skills and experiences.”

And as if all this is not demanding enough, he also has ambitions to increase his own 400-acre farming operation that he and his wife bought in 2008.

Farm facts

• 5,072ha Glenapp Estate, Ayrshire

• 4,200 hill and upland ewes

• 350 home-bred elite health status suckler cows

• 350-head dairy herd of cross-bred Jersey and New Zealand Friesians

• 700ha annually reseeded grass, silage, fodder, arable silage

• 1,633ha commercial and amenity forestry

• 40 properties let and managed in-house

The judging panel

Jane King, editor, Farmers Weekly

Debbie Beaton, awards director, Farmers Weekly

Peter Kendall, NFU president

Mark Skipworth, managing editor, The Telegraph

John Hoskin, 2010 Farmers Weekly Farmer of the Year and 2010 Beef Farmer of the Year, sponsored by McDonald’s

Highly Commended

Stuart BosworthStuart Bosworth

Few pig producers can boast delivering consistent profits, especially with feed prices at their current high. But Stuart Bosworth’s extraordinary business and stockman skills marked him out not simply as the winner of the 2011 Pig Farmer of the Year, but also a very strong contender for the overall Farmer of the Year trophy.

His 270-sow indoor unit in Essex is impressive; he is constantly seeking ways to improve productivity, animal health and welfare and the profit line. He engages with vets, researchers and students to educate himself, and them, in the best way to produce pigs efficiently. His overall professionalism, innovation and commitment to supporting a sustainable British pig industry demonstrate a true leader in this challenging sector.


2011 Farmers Weekly Awards

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