Farmers Weekly Awards 2022: Dairy Farmer of the Year

Catherine Pickford of Alford Fields Farm, Lovington, Somerset is Farmers Weekly’s Dairy Farmer of the Year.

Nurturing young talent and achieving a sensible work-life balance are helping Catherine Pickford create a legacy in dairy farming.

Her textbook spring block-calving system gives a degree of flexibility to her work, while her ability to encourage learning and develop people is helping to find the next generation of dairy farming talent.

See also: Farmers Weekly Awards 2022: Dairy Farmer of the Year finalists

The industry has much to learn from people like Catherine.

With the number of UK dairy farms now estimated to have fallen below 8,000, progressive business arrangements to encourage young people into dairying will help stem the flow of the industry into fewer and fewer hands.   

Farm facts

  • 400 New Zealand Friesian cross Jersey cows
  • Spring block-calving for nine weeks
  • 210ha on a 10-year farm business tenancy
  • Supplies Barbers on a cheese contract
  • Cows dry for two months
  • 475kg milk solids a cow from 5,507 litres
  • 200 cows outwintered on stubble turnips/forage rape and hay/silage bales


Since moving to Alford Fields on a 10-year farm business tenancy in September 2018, Catherine has invested in grazing infrastructure and lime to maximise milk from grass.

Forage production has lifted 50%, from 8t dry matter (DM)/ha to about 12t DM/ha, while cutting nitrogen from 50kg/ha to 30-40kg/ha – although last year’s rainy summer helped, she explains, and the 2022 summer has been tough.

In the first two years at the farm, she fed 1.1t of parlour cake a cow. This was cut to 660kg last year, while milk output lifted 10%, to 5,507 litres, and milk solids  rose 4% to 475kg a cow.

The aim is to average 500kg milk solids from a 500kg cow eating 500kg of cake.


Catherine’s herd manager, Nathan Crocker, is new to farming and has shown a strong work ethic, a good mindset and impressive stockmanship skills.

She is helping him build equity by selling cows to him, with the possibility of taking on the tenancy in his own right in the future.  

Nathan bought 20 in-calf heifers when the herd moved farm, and he now owns 25 cows and about 25 youngstock.

Catherine covers the cost of calf rearing and then charges Nathan £900 across 22 months to buy an animal outright.

By the time it calves, it is owned by Nathan, at which point she rents the cow back.  

Once the tenancy is up, Catherine may retire or semi-retire and mentor Nathan and the team.


Catherine places great importance on travelling to other farms to debate management and learn from other farmers.

She plays an active part in members’ meetings at cheesemaker Barbers, and enjoys hearing about other people’s systems through her buying group and dairy discussion group, as well as travelling across Europe.  

Catherine has encouraged full-time staff member Tiffany Loder to travel to New Zealand, so in September a new apprentice will be taken on to cover this role.

There are three other part-time workers on the farm.

Regular business sessions with consultants involve the whole team, with all staff members encouraged to give their opinions on areas such as animal husbandry, parlour routine and grazing.

A team WhatsApp group and routine meetings help keep the team on track.

This focus helps with the aim of working 40-45 hours/week – barring the first six weeks of calving – with two days off every week through the year.

The idea behind this is to attract people into the industry who want to stay in dairy farming, explains Catherine.

In addition, staff are all salaried, which keeps pay consistent despite the seasonal nature of the work.

Winning ways

  • Clear technical performance goals and monitoring of progress
  • Industry exit strategy mapped out
  • Good staff retention and development, urging people to do training courses, travel and work abroad
  • Offers opportunities to a young entrant
  • Close eye on costs
  • Methodical approach to trying new techniques

A word from our independent judge

“Catherine has mastered an elegant and simple low-cost system that allows a good work-life balance to attract young people into the industry. She nurtures staff and encourages them to learn and has an excellent handle on the facts and figures that matter.”

Andy Dodd, Farm Consultancy Group consultant

The other finalists were:

  • Kevin Jones, Bryn Mawr Farm, Flintshire
  • Aled Morris, Marian Mawr, Denbighshire

The Farmers Weekly 2022 Dairy Adviser of the Year Award is sponsored by Virgin Money

Farmers Weekly’s farming awards celebrates the very best of British agriculture by recognising hard-working and innovative farmers across the UK.

Find out more about the Awards, the categories and sponsorship opportunities on our Awards website.