Britain’s Fittest Farmer 2019 is being run by Farmers Weekly as a fun way of sparking a vital discussion about the physical health and mental wellbeing of the nation’s farmers.
In February, we launched the competition by asking farmers from across the land to share how they keep themselves fit to farm and we were astounded by the number, variety and quality of submissions.
Among the 225 entries there were dairy farmworkers, arable growers, shearers, nutritionists, land agents, agronomists, shepherds, beef farmers, poultry unit workers and contractors.
Ages ranged from those in their early 20s to farmers in their 40s and 50s and even one applicant who is 69 years old.
We’ve had farmers from Cornwall right up to the Orkney Islands, and a particularly impressive number of Welsh.
Our judges had such a tough time whittling all these entries down to just 10 finalists, they agreed to invite seven men and seven women to the live final on 4 May.
The day of friendly competition will put our finalists’ all-round fitness to the test with a series of challenges set by farmer’s son and personal trainer Tom Kemp at his Farm Fitness gym on his family farm.
“It’s great to see a real mix of strong, functional all-rounders in this competition,” says Tom, who is judging alongside Farmers Weekly‘s community editor Oli Hill.
“These finalists have some really impressive stories to tell and can all bring a lot of motivation for health and fitness within the farming community.”
Meet our 14 Britain’s Fittest Farmer finalists below.
- Age: 24
- Location: Pembrokeshire
Dairy farmworker Toby loves the physical and mental challenges of farming.
Originally from a beef farm in Wiltshire, he moved to a Pembrokeshire dairy farm at the age of 15 and discovered his love of dairying.
He’s been a long-time gym-goer, but two years ago he started training for and competing in mixed martial arts (MMA), something he says has driven his fitness to the next level.
He also loves the social life that come with being a YFC member.
“I’ve always loved the gym and most sports and enjoy pushing myself to the limit, but I found I was instantly addicted to MMA,” says Toby.
“I do a lot of grappling, sparring and intense fitness sessions, as well as lifting weights, and I love every minute of it.”
- Age: 49
- Location: Essex
Arable farmer and contractor Ed has set himself the challenge of being as fit as possible ahead of his 50th birthday.
His fitness journey began three years ago when he took up cycling to lose some weight and ended up dropping 20kg.
Today he is part of a local running club and regularly takes part in road- and cross-country races.
He’s so dedicated to exercise that he has been known to hit the gym at 5am to get some training in during the busy harvest time.
“I enjoy high-intensity sessions, gym work, running and cycling now and as I turn 50 in May, I’m quite sure I’m the fittest I’ve been my whole life,” says Ed.
“My mental health has been greatly improved with my fitness. I find running before or after work greatly helps me unwind and relax – it’s my time to step away from the farm and think about other things.
“It’s easy to think there is no time to train during the busy periods of spring and harvest, but I have found making the time by training early or late has far outweighed the stress and tiredness of long days in the tractor seat.”
- Age: 30
- Location: Orkney Islands
Sean is working on his family’s beef and sheep farm and also contract-shears about 12,000 sheep over the summer. He is proud to play rugby for Orkney’s first team and keeps fit by training in his homemade gym in one of the barns on the farm.
“I am very aware of the mental stress that farming life creates, with the financial strain it causes, how unpredictable it can be, especially up in the north of Scotland, when winters are long and daylight hours are very short,” he says.
“I have come to find that regular exercise – and in particular team sports – have helped to achieve mental resilience.
“I feel that with keeping my fitness at its peak, I have a lot more energy, I am more efficient and proactive.”
- Age: 27
- Location: Isle of Mann
Michael farms at home and works for other farmers on the island.
To stay in shape he likes to start his day with an early morning jog and his evenings are spent either at the local boxing gym, training for amateur fights, or at rugby practice in preparation for his weekly Saturday match.
He also enjoys regularly participating in race meetings on his quad bike.
Michael has completed several 86-mile endurance walks and is gearing up for a 24-hour charity sheep-shearing event later this year.
“There is no health without mental health, and I love nothing more than testing my mental strength with additional fitness challenges,” says Michael.
“Lone working on the farm can affect wellbeing, so challenging myself can only help to develop mental toughness and resilience.”
- Age: 30
- Location: Pembrokeshire
Dairy farmer Ed is known by his family and friends as “The Iron Farmer” because of his dedication to Ironman triathlon competitions.
When he’s not milking the 200 cows on his family farm, he is focused on strength and conditioning training by lifting old tyres when sheeting the silage pit and knocking fence posts into the ground.
He works on his endurance by cycling, swimming and running twice a week.
“My favourite activity for unwinding after a long or stressful day on the farm is to head to the coast for a run,” explains Ed. “For me it really does reduce the mental stress that can build up from the 24/7 farm, where we face constant mental and physical challenges.
“My diet is also very important in keeping me in shape. I need lots of protein after a big training session – a glass of my fresh cross-bred milk seems to do the trick.”
Watch Ed’s video entry below (music changed for copyright reasons).
- Age: 28
- Location: Ayrshire
Known locally as “Ayrshire’s fittest shepherd”, Cameron runs a flock of 700 sheep and does scanning and shearing for other farmers.
He enjoys competing in cross-country races and dabbles in Crossfit.
Not having much in the way of machinery on the farm means he does a lot of heavy lifting by hand and running to get from field to field.
“Running and working out is in itself is a great way to relieve stress,” he says. “I am a firm believer that there is a direct link between physical fitness and mental health. I also have a lot of banter on Snapchat with other farmers.
“I am well known for my fitness and would love the opportunity to test that against other men and women around the UK.”
Watch Cameron’s amusing video entry below.
- Age: 27
- Location: Cumbria
James farms beef and sheep in the Lake District and loves all outdoor activities, including mountain biking and watersports. He’s also an ex-professional rugby league player, and says the sport is his big stress release.
“Getting on the rugby field, you can completely sign out from work and I can focus all my attention on playing,” he explains.
“Through rugby you create strong bonds with friends, as you have to work as a team, so we also socialise as a team.
“This means you have to have a very strong mental fortitude and when the chips are down and the odds are stacked against you, you have to keep going, no matter what.”
- Age: 35
- Location: Gloucestershire
Claire works on the family dairy farm rearing youngstock and helping her dad with the breeding of their British Friesians.
She stays fit by running up and down mountains carrying a weighted rucksack, riding horses and also teaches a spin class twice a week.
She has also competed in several SAS-style selection races. Having managed an eating disorder and depression for more than a decade, Claire loves getting stuck in with challenges.
“My mental health is highly important to me,” says Claire. “This is why I seek out physical fitness activities that are social, so that I am always sharing the buzz from completing a challenge with others.”
Watch Claire’s video entry below.
- Age: 39
- Location: Dorset
Jemma runs 400 ewes near the south coast and says working out in the gym is a great release for her stresses.
She makes time for five strength and conditioning sessions in the gym each week, which complements the physical work on the farm.
“I have suffered with post-traumatic stress disorder and mild depression after a serious road collision 10 years ago,” she says.
“I find the gym is now my therapy – whatever I’ve been dealing with disappears as soon as I walk in. It also gets me off farm regularly and the group I train with are the most supportive, caring people I’ve ever met.”
Watch Jemma in action below.
- Age: 24
- Location: Cheshire
Vicky quit her job as an equine veterinary nurse to work on a 480-cow dairy farm. Doing all the morning jobs like milking and carrying bags of colostrum, she reckons she’s burning about 1,000 calories before 10am.
She’s a YFC member and plays hockey, netball and tug-of-war for her club. She also volunteers in the local gym and has hopes of becoming a personal trainer.
“Working on the farm has kept me really fit – it has made me a lot stronger than most girls,” she says.
“I find the workouts in the gym make me fitter and stronger, and I use the same movements on the farm. Squats are useful to lift calves and protect my back, doing pull-ups to climb up onto a side in the parlour, for example.
“I want to show these hard-faced farmers that it’s okay to cry and be emotional – and, most importantly, it’s OK to talk.”
- Age: 38
- Location: Somerset
Mum-of-two Fiona runs a Hereford cross Friesian beef suckler herd near Bristol.
She’s a keen rugby player and enjoys travelling the country to take part in obstacle course races, qualifying for the world championships last year.
Fiona trains using typical farm objects and weights as her equipment and the hills around the farm are ideal for her sprint training.
“I train several times a week to be able to play rugby well and prepare me for the obstacle race season,” she says.
“I have a positive mindset and healthy mind, but this is all dependent on my training. If I don’t train, I’ll find myself slipping into bad moods and depression.
“I suffered with bad mental health about 18 years ago for several years, so I know exercising is key to keeping it at bay.”
- Age: 36
- Location: Denbighshire
A beef and sheep farmer from North Wales, Rhian also works part-time as an agricultural adviser for the RSPB.
She’s been selected to run for Wales multiple times and also enjoys competing in triathlons. She’s a dab-hand on the dance floor too, which also helps her keep fit.
“I love salsa and jive dancing and go once a month to social nights,” she says. “Due to my petite size, I believe being strong enables me to farm efficiently, such as being able to catch and turn a sheep that weighs more than me during lambing.”
Having suffered with both depression and an eating disorder in the past, she is continually striving to strengthen her mental fitness too.
“This comes through balancing my work-life ratio, ensuring I rest and sleep enough, socialise daily and am eating healthily,” she adds.
- Age: 30
- Location: Cornwall
When farmer’s daughter Sarah isn’t working as a land agent, she spends all of her free time working on the family farm, helping to run the flock of pedigree Texel sheep.
She enjoys walks with her dogs, mountain biking, swimming and going to the gym to do a combination of weight and cardio fitness training.
She says any exercise – be it a long walk or an intense gym session – helps to improve her mood and unwind after a stressful day.
“Keeping fit and active keeps my mind healthy and an hour in the gym can lift my spirits no end,” she says. “I also have two spaniels, so going out walking with them is great to keep on top of stress levels.”
- Age: 39
- Location: West Glamorgan
Cheryl is a beef and sheep farmer from south Wales and also breeds and shows shire horses.
As a member of her local running club, she tackles a mix of track and off-road runs several times a week.
“I am a member of my local running club and attend a track, hilly and tempo session every week I also try to get some long miles in when I have the time,” she says.
“On my running nights off I attend my local gym to do some weight classes I also have a shire stallion to exercise every day.”
Last year she completed the Snowdon marathon, plus a number of half-marathons, shorter-distance races and raced in her very first ultra-marathon – which is longer than the 26.2-mile distance covered in a standard marathon.
On nights off from running, Cheryl hits the gym to do some weight classes.
“I find that running is excellent for mental health,” she says. “With the company of other people, you can forget about what’s going on in your world, which can be quite lonely at times, and listen to others and what goes on in ‘normal people’s lives’, as I call it.”
“This also makes me appreciate life on the farm and be thankful that I’m not in the rat race that some people have to deal with every day.”