Farmers Apprentice 2018: What makes a winner?

The Farmers Apprentice bootcamp (15-20 July) will be an action-packed, fun-filled week when our shortlisted contestants will go head to head.

They’ll be put through their paces in a series of tasks designed to test them – and their farming skills – to the max. Here are 10 of the traits we’ll be looking for in the ultimate winner.

1. Marketing maestro

There’s no point producing something if you can’t sell it, so you have to know your market and, increasingly, farmers are dealing directly with consumers.

This means you’ll need to be confident, concise and convincing when conveying the key benefits of our great British produce – whether that’s traceability, taste or welfare standards. Our 2016 star sellers had to retail meat at the Great Yorkshire Show.

See also: Meet the 2018 Apprentice finalists

2. Crop selection guru

You won’t make many decisions more important than selecting what to grow.

So, when contestants were tasked with creating a planting and management plan for wheat, they had to research the soil, climate, pests and diseases and varieties, then combine this data with expected costs and returns using powerful farm management software. The goal? Turning a healthy profit.

3. Technology nous

New kit has a vital role to play in reducing costs, increasing returns and farming in a more environmentally friendly way so we gave competitors the chance to fly a drone to capture field facts, then use it to create a fertiliser plan, which they had to input into a state-of-the-art tractor.

Not forgetting having to jump in the cab and actually get spreading, of course.

4. Husbandry heroes

Stockmanship is a fundamental skill for many farmers, so previous apprentices have been put through their paces doing everything from checking the condition of pigs to assessing lambs’ readiness for market and preparing cattle for showing.

They’ve also had to build pens and round up the animals to begin with, of course, which can bring a whole set of challenges of its own.

5. Happy hands-on

The theory’s all very well, but there are plenty of times when you have to roll your sleeves up. Welding is a tough task – perfect, then, as a way of challenging our would-be winners. Some prospered in the workshop; others were, ahem, not quite so good…

6. Machinery maintenance

Not many farms have got a mechanic on hand, so a few maintenance and repair skills can be vital. The scenario we created was a simple one. Rain’s on its way but you’ve got a few dry hours, so you need to get a combine good to go.

Our apprentices were given some instructions, a few tools and – under the watchful eye of an engineering expert – told to get working…

7. Business brains

Cashflows, costs, revenues, profit. Figures matter. And not solely when it comes to the tried and tested aspects of agriculture – nowadays you need to think laterally, whether that’s adding value, niche markets or diversification.

We set contestants the individual challenge of formulating a business plan for a college farm which would return a profit, while delivering on its educational objectives. They then had to present it to the judges in a 10-minute Dragons’ Den-style pitch. No pressure then…

8. Leadership

We’re looking for go-getters who have a vision, make decisions and enjoy taking responsibility. Such natural leaders are also good listeners and can inspire those around them.

That’s why bootcamp tasks often have a leader (we might choose them; or we might get the contestants to) which reveals a lot about everyone involved. Are you someone who’s happy to put your head above the parapet?

9. Communication counts

Whether it’s an email to your agronomist, a phone call to an auctioneer, a conversation with a family member or a letter to your bank manager, you need to be clear, succinct and persuasive, sometimes in high-pressure situations.

Over the course of the week we’ll be keeping an eye on what you say and what you write – and how you say and write it. Here’s a tip: be brief!

10. Teamwork

One plus one equals three. Well it doesn’t; actually, it equals two, but you know what we mean. It’s all about the sum of the parts. This means coming up with a shared vision and agreeing responsibilities. When people work together effectively, the results can be incredible – and very satisfying!

A word from one of the judges

Having a willingness to learn is one of the most important attributes required, says farmer Robert Neill from Roxburghshire.

“Farmers have always been good at adapting, but agriculture could be about to go through some of the biggest changes it’s ever experienced, so I want to see apprentices who are keen to learn, have a hunger to acquire new skills and are open to new ideas.

FW Awards 2017 – Mixed Farmer of the Year finalist – Robert Neill, Upper Nisbet Farm, Roxburghshire

“Farming is so specialist nowadays that you can’t be knowledgeable about everything, but if you don’t know something, you should be prepared to ask someone who does.

“The successful farmer of the future will also be very willing to embrace new technology to help improve efficiency, so IT skills will become ever-more important.

“I’d also like to see the apprentices display huge reserves of passion – we need the next generation to be so enthusiastic about what they do that they’ll seize opportunities to promote agriculture to the general public.”

What is Farmers Apprentice?

Farmers Apprentice puts 10 young people through a week-long bootcamp that exposes them to some of the best in technical equipment and expertise to reflect real challenges faced by UK farmers.

At the end of the week, one will be crowned Farmers Weekly Farmers Apprentice 2018, winning £10,000 to get a foothold on the farming ladder. 

Sponsored by

See the Farmers Apprentice website for more information about the competition and bootcamp details, and follow the competition @farmersweekly, #farmersapprentice.