Farming men and women from right across the nation are signing up to take part in Farmers Weekly‘s 2021 Britain’s Fittest Farmer competition.
This hit health and wellbeing project is making waves in the farming community by encouraging people working in agriculture to be more open and proactive when it comes to looking after themselves, mentally and physically.
Anyone aged 18 and working in the UK agriculture sector, including farmers and farmworkers, is invited to take part in the third season of the competition. Go to the Britain’s Fittest Farmer website for full details on how to enter and what to expect.
To give you an idea of what the judges are looking for, here is a selection of strong early applicants.
Thomas Annett, 29, County Down
Third-generation mixed farmer Thomas farms just outside Newcastle, County Down in Northern Ireland.
Living close to the beach and the Mourne Mountains means he does plenty of hiking and the occasional sea swim.
“My fitness journey began when my wife and I joined a local CrossFit gym a year before lockdown and we really enjoyed it,” he says.
“When all the gyms closed, my brother, my friend and I started meeting on Newcastle promenade before work to follow an at-home dumbbell workout plan from our gym.
“Meeting regularly with a small group for exercise and craic allowed us to find some normality and routine during a very different year.”
He also built a mini-gym on his farm which means he has continued to exercise despite restrictions brought in because of the pandemic.
“I’ve been following Britain’s Fittest Farmer for a few years now and I’m keen to try my hand at it,” he says.
Melanie Wilson, 30, Somerset
Working on the family beef, dairy and arable farm near Bristol keeps Melanie physically fit.
“I work on all aspects of the farm, from feeding to bedding down to driving machinery. My main job is looking after the calves,” she says.
She also enjoys running, walking the dogs and is a regular gym goer when possible. Maintaining a positive mental attitude and taking time to de-stress is key, says Melanie.
“I think it is very important to unwind each day. Going running and walking, I find always clears my mind. I find speaking to people is always the best way to stay positive. I’m a big believer in finding a positive in any negative thing.”
Andrew Burgess, 56, Cambridgeshire
Organic vegetable grower and agronomist Andrew loves his outdoor pursuits, especially skiing and mountaineering.
When not out and about on the farm he keeps fit with a spot of cycling, weight training and playing touch rugby.
“I work in a stressful environment supplying direct to retailers. Over the 35 years of my career, I’ve always found sport and training to be a great way to find space in my mind with total focus on the match or bike ride.
“I now preach a fit and healthy lifestyle, and all of its benefits, to my peers and colleagues.”
Jason Mckie, 27, Dumfries and Galloway
Contractor Jason hails from Stranraer in south-west Scotland, and his work includes spraying, fertiliser spreading, ground and forage work.
He keeps fit by playing rugby for his local team, hitting the gym and walking his two sheepdogs before work. Since the gyms have been closed, he’s been working out in his garden shed.
His mental mantra is to try to avoid dwelling on mistakes or overthinking problems. “Sitting alone in a tractor for 16 hours a day you can put yourself in a bad place,” he says.
He also does his best to be available for friends and family if they are struggling. “Five minutes of my time could mean a lot to someone. It’s about taking the time to listen to people when they need to vent, because we’ve all got problems.
“I found fitness helps me clear my mind and allows me to go into my day’s work with a clear head.”
Gem Carter, 31, Suffolk
Gem started in arable farming six years ago, following a stint serving in the Army.
“I’m outside in all weather from dawn to dusk and I wouldn’t change it. I’m involved with everything on the farm and learned many skills over the years,” she says.
“Before the pandemic, I was in the gym Monday to Saturday. I have a strict regime involving chucking around weights and seeing how heavy I can lift.”
She’s a keen footballer too and has played for the Bury St Edmunds’ team for five years.
“Working on the farm keeps me fit as a lot of the work is full-on, like moving hay bales, pulling machinery out of the mud, and cutting down trees. I run regularly between six and 10 miles a few times a week, as well as cycling through forests, climbing mountains and walking my spaniels a few hours a day.”
She finds having a goal to focus on, whether related to farm work or fitness, is key to leading a fulfilling life and having a healthy mindset.
“Mental wellbeing is important to me because I want to support my niece who is becoming a teenager. I see there is more pressure nowadays for kids growing up and I want to support her and be a positive influence in her life,” she says.
Toby Beesley, 25, Buckinghamshire
Toby, who farms near Milton Keynes, took part in the competition in 2020 and is back for more this year.
His family’s arable farm backs onto a forest, which he enjoys running or cycling through for regular exercise.
“I’ve built my own gym inside a shipping container, with various items of old-school gym equipment and, of course, farm implements such as tyres, chains and weights,” he says.
“This is my favourite way of keeping fit – training outdoors pushing/pulling or lifting heavy things in high-intensity workouts with friends.”
To help keep his mental health in check, he tries to start each day with meditation or visualisation sessions. He finds this routine helps him focus on achieving his goals and improves his outlook on life.
“As we know, farming is one of the toughest jobs. I believe the key is to exercise regularly, maintain a balanced work and social life, talk to someone when you’re in a tough place and achieve personal goals outside of your work.”
Alice Sheffield, 28, Surrey
Rugby Union player Alice is from a farming family and is planning on joining the family business full-time after a tough year.
“I grew up on the farm and my dad still runs it by himself, I have always helped out at weekends, but in the past year even more so while I have been furloughed,” she says.
“I play rugby for Harlequins – but I’m not as sassy as the photo looks. I like to go on walks with the dog whenever I can and enjoy the gym.”
She describes herself as a naturally positive person who tries to bring energy and positivity to any situation.
“I think exercise and the outdoors is hugely important in helping that. Fresh air, taking your mind off anything that might be bothering you, and exercising to focus on something physical can make a huge difference.
“Mental wellbeing is so important, more so than ever now. This past year I’ve tried simple things from writing goals and positive affirmations, to doing puzzles and colouring and practising mindfulness.”
Matt Timms, 31, Oxfordshire
Coming from a non-farming background, Matt has been working on farms since he was 16 and today is an agriculture technician and instructor at Abingdon & Witney College. He also does a bit of sheep shearing in the summer.
He keeps his fitness up by playing football, working out in the gym and running three or four times a week. Always up for a challenge, he has previously run the London marathon and completed a cycle ride from John O’Groats to Land’s End.
“This year, I’m aiming to complete a 12-hour football marathon, and of course I’m aiming for Britain’s Fittest Farmer,” he says.
In the past year, he has been focusing on his own mental wellbeing in the face of all the difficulties raised by the pandemic.
“During the first lockdown, I was unable to see my fiancée for five months due to social distancing and shielding measures, the gyms were also closed, football had stopped, and I was unable to see close friends and family.
“I kept my spirits up through keeping busy through the lambing and shearing seasons. I was often the first person, other than family members, that many people had seen for some time. People really opened up and it was great for me to just take 10 minutes to talk and listen.
“For me, mental wellbeing doesn’t just mean making sure you are constantly happy or smiling, but knowing that even when you do feel low, that there is someone who cares.”