Meet the Farmers Weekly Rising Stars 2017
After a nationwide search, we’ve found 13 young men and women who are transforming the farming, food and environmental sectors.
They’re all 35 or under and are already making a massive difference. We’re confident that, over the coming years and decades, their influence will be huge. Quite simply, they will be game-changers.
They all share a passion for what they do, an ability to think outside the box, a positivity about the future, a sharp mind and an enthusiasm for helping other young people – these are the qualities that make our rising stars.
We hope you find them as inspirational as we do.
Scroll down the page to read about each Rising Star.
Siobhan Gardner, 27, chief executive of Herotech8 and PhD student
The technology pioneer
It’s a bit of a leap from plant biologist to robotics entrepreneur, but it’s one that this tenacious livestock farmer’s daughter from Sussex has taken in her stride.
While doing a PhD in Agrifood at Cranfield University, Siobhan has founded a start-up company which is developing automated drone infrastructure to make precision agriculture simpler and safer, particularly for people in remote locations.
She jokingly dubs the decision to start her own business in the middle of her PhD as “madness” but she’s clearly someone who relishes a challenge.
She’s very aware of the big-picture issues such as climate change and water scarcity, but strongly believes in science’s ability to provide answers. She argues it is through R&D, innovation and technology transfer that we can be “smart” and develop sustainable food systems, with lower reliance on fossil fuels, less waste and better biodiversity conservation.
She’s collected a hatful of high-profile awards – including the Innovate UK Women in Innovation prize – and is committed to dispelling stereotypes in agricultural and science-based careers, particularly those surrounding young women.
Indeed, one of her ambitions is to “inspire the next generation of women in science to step up and join the sector”.
What the judges liked Passionate about the role science has to play in solving the challenges facing the farming industry and very active in trying to encourage more young women into agriculture and science.
What three words best describe you? Passionate, driven and nerdy.
Tell us something about yourself that not many people know My dad also appeared in Farmers Weekly – back in about1982.
Rohit Kaushish, 30, NFU economist
They say fortune favours the brave and Rohit certainly took a brave step when he left a high-flying banking career in London to study for a masters in Ecological Economics.
The self-confessed “City boy” wanted to do something that contributed more to society, particularly the rural environment. A qualified management accountant, he’s now a key part of the NFU’s Economics team at a critical time for UK agriculture as it faces a raft of new challenges surrounding Brexit.
One of his specialties is risk management and Rohit, with his fresh perspective and sharp business brain, is coming up with clever solutions for how farmers can manage market volatility through risk management and insurance schemes.
He’s worked on proposals for how the futures market might work on the dairy sector and more generally is challenging the industry to think differently about future models of support, taxation and financial instruments.
He’s also recently taken over as the secretary of the NFU’s Next Generation Policy Forum to help support its work.
Determined, tenacious and passionate about his new career, Rohit is playing a critical role in the NFU’s work to develop a domestic agriculture policy. Banking’s loss has been agriculture’s gain.
What the judges liked Took a big risk in leaving the banking sector, but is using the experience he gained during his time there to help shape future agricultural policy.
What is your greatest strength? I’m pretty determined once I set my mind to something, but most importantly I like to learn from others. Listening to others, finding common themes and joining the dots has always been at the core of my work.
Name a well-known figure who inspires you Climbing hotshot Alex Honnold. He is really pushing the sport forward but looks so chilled while he’s at it. I admire his composure in high-pressure situations.
Oliver Hall, 29, director and co-founder of Evolution Farming
The start-up visionary
It’s often in times of change that opportunities present themselves and, in the fast-changing dairy sector, Oliver Hall spotted an opening.
He and Tom Rawson launched Evolution Farming in 2010. The firm specialises in farm management, particularly to the dairy industry, offering consultancy, management agreements, joint ventures and land rentals.
The pair are currently responsible for milking and managing about 1,500 cows, with staff numbers having grown from two to 15.
Oliver, who graduated from the Royal Agricultural University, Cirencester, in 2008 (the same year he won the RABDF Dairy Student of the Year Award), is currently based in Ayrshire, where he oversees the day-to-day management of a 300-cow spring-calving joint venture and works with 10-20 farming businesses on a consultancy basis.
After leaving university, he initially returned home to the family dairy farm in Yorkshire, and admits that “leaving the comfort of the family home” was perhaps the most important decision he has ever made.
His goal is to establish dairy enterprises that can proposer through the highs and lows of the milk price cycle, with supply chains that put farmers close to the end consumer. He has recently joined the AHDB Dairy Board.
Oliver is recognised as someone who has a real sense of the bigger picture and what needs to be done to compete and survive in dairying.
What the judges liked Showed ambition in co-founding a start-up at a young age and is looking for the business to provide opportunities to young people to get into dairy farming.
What is your greatest strength? Excel spreadsheets
If you could go back in time to what event would you travel? The cracking of the Enigma code
Richard Bower, 31, farmer and chairman of NFU’s Next Generation Policy Forum
The next-generation voice
Richard Bower has packed a vast amount of experience into the past decade, which makes him perfectly placed to be an ambassador for the next generation of farmers.
After a one-year access course at Harper Adams University, he stayed on to complete a degree in Food Marketing with Business Studies.
His placement year was with top fruit marketer, Empire World Trade, which introduced him to people who had completed the Management Development Service (MDS) graduate scheme and he was impressed with the level of responsibility they were given.
He successfully applied for a place on the MDS scheme after he graduated, allowing him to gain a wide range of practical and management experience across a variety of businesses.
Post-MDS, it was back to the family business, which has 300 beef cattle, 200ha of combinable crops and an open farm.
One of the advantages of being back home was that he could step up his involvement with the NFU – he’s now vice-chairman of his local Stafford branch, chairman of the Next Generation Policy Forum and has an ambition to be the youngest ever NFU officeholder.
Inevitably, Brexit currently occupies a lot of the forum’s attention, and Richard’s not been afraid to investigate what young people want so the group can decide what they should be asking for in terms of a new-look agricultural policy.
As he observes: “Younger minds are needed to work with experienced minds to move things forward.”
What the judges liked Takes every opportunity that comes his way – whether that is to develop his own farming skills and business or to lobby on behalf of the next generation of farmers.
What is the biggest challenge facing young people in agriculture? The misconception that agriculture is not an important professional industry which helps the wealth and health of everyone.
Who would you most like to be stuck in a lift with? Brexit secretary David Davis and the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier. Or Beyonce.
Harriet Wilson, 25, senior agricultural manager, Co-op
The multi-task master
Not many people rise to a senior role in a top retailer by the time they’re 25, but Harriet Wilson’s understanding of – and passion for – retailing and agriculture is a winning combination.
Within the agricultural team at the Co-op, she is responsible for dairy, fruit, vegetables and horticulture, plus has senior accountability for pork categories.
She describes it as her “dream job” and has already been identified as a future leader though the Co-op’s internal Shining Stars programme.
From a family farm in Staffordshire, she graduated from Harper Adams University in 2014, having spent her placement year as an agricultural assurance co-ordinator at McDonald’s.
Harriet is a natural communicator – indeed, Farmers Weekly readers may remember her column between 2010 and 2012 in which she charted her experiences of student life.
Her broad understanding of agriculture and ability to speak the language of farming means she has been able to develop strong and credible relationships with suppliers.
She has taken a lead on the Co-op’s summer agri-marketing campaign which centres on its commitment to 100% British meat.
Harriet has also gone out of her way to champion other young people in the sector. She’s developed the retailer’s Young Farming Pioneers programme, which aims to develop the next generation of farming talent.
She attributes much of her success to membership of the Young Farmers movement. But as well as learning huge amounts from it and winning various awards and competitions, she has given a lot back, taking on many club, county and national positions.
What the judges liked Very proactive individual who has achieved a lot in terms of personal development, but also putting back into the industry by nurturing other young people.
What’s the best bit of advice you have ever been given? Don’t get too hung up on improving your weaknesses; concentrate on building on your strengths.
What scares you? Losing my phone. I need to back it up more often because my life is on there.
Ed Dale, 27, farm manager, Velcourt
The first-class manager
Securing a farm manager position at the age of just 25 is no mean feat – but Harper Adams University graduate Ed Dale shows what is possible with commitment and drive.
He grew up on a mixed family farm in North Yorkshire and, after completing an Agriculture with Mechanisation degree and a stint in New Zealand, joined the Co-op farming business as a management trainee at the Stoughton Estate in Leicestershire in March 2013.
He later moved to the Coldham Estate in Cambridgeshire as assistant manager then, in August 2015, made the step up to manager with Velcourt at the Arbury Estate in Warwickshire. It’s an impressive CV for someone who is still some way off 30.
Day-to-day, Ed runs the estate’s 900ha in-hand farm, with everything this entails. But the role’s not limited to such challenges as agronomy, accounts and planning – Ed is very adaptable and happy to “get on a tractor and get a job done if necessary”.
He has an analytical mind and is prepared to challenge the status quo if he thinks it will bring benefits.
Despite being in the job a relatively short time, he’s already restructured the labour and machinery, plus changed the cropping rotations and cultivation policy. He talks about the need for farms to sweat their assets through diversification, so they are well-placed to deal with tough times.
Positive, precise and hard-working, Ed is the sort of farm manager who can see past the challenges to identify the opportunities.
What the judges liked Achieved a lot already and taking a business-minded approach to improving the technical and financial performance of the business he works for.
What’s the best bit of advice you’ve been given? Be sure to differentiate between work and play – and make time for both.
What’s your greatest strength? Attention to detail and an ambition to improve the environment I work in.
Kirsty Black, 35, PhD student and distillery manager
The master distiller
Kirsty Black has a bold ambition – she wants to revolutionise the UK alcohol industry from the field up.
More specifically, she is trying to change how Scotland’s spring malting barley crop is grown – replacing the application of inorganic nitrogen fertiliser with intercropped legumes as a way of meeting the cereal’s nitrogen needs.
It’s a theory Kirsty is testing via her part-time PhD at the James Hutton Institute. If it can be achieved it could, she reckons, save farmers about £6.8m/year and be the equivalent of taking 36,000 cars off the road each year.
There’s also potential for the secondary legume crop to be used as a raw material for the brewing industry.
Her passion for the brewing industry comes after studying the subject at Heriot-Watt University, which has led to a role as the master distiller at Arbikie Distilling, producing a range of award-winning spirits.
Fascinatingly, this isn’t her first career – she previously worked for more than a decade as a quality engineer in the medical device industry.
Kirsty’s role at Arbikie sees her handling every aspect of the business from milling and mashing to record-keeping and packaging. She admits to a natural inquisitiveness that pushes her to look for different ways of doing things.
She’s someone who clearly has drive, energy and bags (as well as bottles) of spirit.
What the judges liked Has a clear end goal and is applying science to a challenge that would make a difference to both farmers and the environment.
What is your greatest strength? Inquisitiveness
What’s the best bit of advice you have ever been given? To not be afraid to admit you don’t know something or ask for help – I have no qualms in turning to others for help.
Joe and Edward Towers, 27 and 25, dairy farmers
The added-value virtuosos
These brothers make an unstoppable force.
When Joe went back to the family business, it had 220 Holstein Friesians, with most of the milk processed on-farm and sold locally.
Fast-forward four years and there are 450 cows (including 100 Jerseys), the processing has been outsourced and they’ve totally reinvented their approach to marketing.
They will soon be in the position where 30% of the milk is sold locally under the brand Lune Valley Dairy Farm; 50% will be going to into London coffee shops, top hotels and Michelin-starred restaurants under the brand Brades Farm Barista Milk, with the remainder sold on farmgate contract.
Against a backdrop of a dairy crisis, the two brothers have innovated to make the business “anti-fragile” by building a premium brand.
Joe is broadly responsible for the milk once it leaves the cow and he takes great satisfaction from knowing that members of his family can now walk into a swanky London coffee shop or one of the capital’s best restaurants or hotels and look at the milk on the counter and know that every drop of it came from cows reared and milked on a farm in Lancashire that his grandfather started with six cows in 1960.
Younger brother Edward is mainly focused on the production side – he has driven great technical improvements and introduced the 100-cow Jersey herd to provide the specialist, fully traceable coffee milk the business has become famous for.
Both are strongly motivated by being part of a family team. Edward sums it up well in a message that has lessons for the wider industry: “You can go very fast on your own, but not too far. As a team, you go slower, but much further.”
What the judges liked Have shown real innovation in their sector, demonstrating that if you think laterally then you can often find solutions to what look to be insurmountable challenges.
What three words describe you? Joe: Eccentric, contemplative and curious.
What is your ultimate goal in life? Edward: To play my role in mankind overcoming the challenge of climate change.
What’s the best bit of advice you’ve been given?
Edward: Never ever, ever give up. Ever.
Joe: Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.
Chris Manley, 32, agricultural manager, Sainsbury’s
The supply chain visionary
“Dream it, believe it, achieve it.” That’s Chris’s philosophy – one that’s seen him achieve tremendous things.
At a professional level, he’s led the restructuring of the Sainsbury’s chicken supply chain from an agricultural perspective to deliver a greater level of trust and transparency, with farmers and processors working more closely together for mutual benefit.
In a previous role with Tesco, he was also heavily involved in the launch of the company’s Future Farmer Foundation – a development progamme for young people in agriculture.
Chris is a man who knows where he wants to be and has a personal plan which identifies his life goals, together with 10-year and three-year aspirations – and actions to achieve those targets.
As part of this, he never stops developing his “softer” skills, by taking on extra responsibilities – whether that’s as president of the Student Union while at Harper Adams University or more recently as chairman of the National Federation of Young Farmers’ Clubs.
A “proud” farmer’s son from Devon, Chris is not afraid to advocate change. He wants to see farmers communicate more effectively with the public and each other. He also wants to see greater collaboration in supply chains with parties forging long-term trusting relationships.
“It’s time to put our foot on the accelerator before we get left behind by our global competitors,” he says.
What the judges liked A great communicator, with a collaborative approach, who has a clear vision of what needs to change in food and farming to allow the industry to move forward.
What’s the best bit of advice you have ever been given? The ability to triumph begins with you – always.
Who would you most like to be stuck in a lift with? Countdown’s Rachel Riley – she can count on me in a tough situation and is most likely to crack the code to get us out the lift.
Robin Asquith, 28, care farm manager for Camphill Village Trust plus own farm business
The care farm champion
Robin Asquith is a man on a mission to show that agriculture can be about far more than food production.
He believes it is multifunctional and can deliver all sorts of benefits – and helping people with learning difficulties and mental health issues is one aspect of this.
Robin reckons care farming has the potential to help thousands of people in the UK by allowing them to acquire skills and self-esteem through working in the countryside. It helps them develop, get back into employment and lead more independent lives. It can be a commercially viable option for farmers, too.
Robin, who works for the long-established and progressive charity, Camphill Village Trust, is brimming with energy and enthusiasm for the endeavour.
He recently set up and now runs the organic High Farm at Botton Village, North Yorkshire, which has cattle, pigs and field-scale vegetable production, and supports local people with disabilities and mental health issues.
He’s also completed a Nuffield scholarship on the role UK agriculture can play in delivering social care and is a trustee of the umbrella body, Care Farming UK.
Yet agriculture was a career he nearly didn’t end up in. He trained to be a plumber after leaving school, before studying geography at university.
That led to a job in a horticultural nursery and then one as manager of another care farm, which he ran for three-and-a-half years, before moving to his current role in August 2016.
“This has offered me the opportunity to start a brand new care farm from scratch,” he says. “In an era when mental health is a taboo subject in agriculture, it’s time someone stood up and made a difference.”
What the judges liked Came into agriculture from a different background and is taking a leading role in demonstrating the value of using farms to deliver social care.
What is your greatest strength? My ability to crack on with a job, roll up my sleeves and make something work.
Who would you most like to be stuck in a lift with? Motorbike racer and mechanic Guy Martin.
Abi Reader, 35, dairy herd manager
The master communicator
Not many farmers have had two invitations to Downing Street, but Glamorgan-based Abi did, after being crowned NFU Cymru Wales Woman Farmer of the Year 2016.
She is a great advocate for the industry and determined to make a difference, whether through social media, taking part in Open Farm Sunday or through “Cows on Tour”, a roadshow visiting school, shows and events to “tell the farming story”.
All this is done alongside her role as a partner in the family business with her father and uncle. Theirs is a 300ha mixed farm near Cardiff, home to 180 cows, including pedigree Dairy Shorthorns.
As manager, Abi’s duties include supervising breeding, nutrition, grassland management, calving and youngstock. She oversees a team of four (one full-time, two part-time and one student) and hosts 12-14 veterinary and agricultural placement students throughout the year.
She runs strict KPIs on performance and the Royal Agricultural University graduate is aiming to build the business to 220 cows on high health and welfare performance targets, with a low carbon footprint.
As if this wasn’t enough, Abi also sits on a huge range of industry groups, including the NFU Dairy Board. She is keen to be involved in the decision-making about the way forward for the farming industry. As she says: “I want to have a voice in the outcomes that this industry deserves.”
What the judges liked A passionate communicator who is making a real difference by engaging with politicians, policymakers and the public, while at the same time managing a successful dairy business.
What scares you? Getting stuck in my ways.
If you could go back in time, to what event would you travel? I think I would rather look forward than back. I would like to see what the countryside looks like in the future, what are people’s eating habits and how much food production technology has changed. Will I be green with envy or not?
Kit Franklin, 27, agricultural engineering lecturer
The expert engineer
Technology is playing an ever bigger role in agriculture and no one is more at the forefront of this trend than Kit Franklin.
His main role is lecturing and assessing Mechanical and Agricultural Engineering undergraduates at Harper Adams University.
But he has become best known for running the “Hands-Free Hectare” project – a groundbreaking bid to grow a hectare of spring barley using only autonomous machinery, including adapted tractors and drones.
The collaborative research project, which has grabbed headlines across the globe, has involved huge amounts of work behind the scenes, with Kit pulling together a funding-winning consortium and project brief, then leading the team to develop the system used to drill the field.
His interest in engineering was fostered on his parents’ small Gloucestershire farm and now he’s on a mission to show the public how scientifically and technically advanced agriculture has become, while also proving to the farming industry that there’s no technical barrier to field-scale automation.
Kit is a big fan of the power of social media, including Facebook and Twitter, to spread awareness of the progress the sector is making.
“It’s an industry of cutting-edge science and technology, not just tweed and tractors,” he says. “It’s presented with the greatest responsibility and challenge – to feed the 99% of the population who are not involved in it. It’s an in underrated industry in fact; one that’s key to all of civilisation.”
What the judges liked Having a direct influence on the next generation as a lecturer, but also leading the way in developing the farm machinery of the future.
What is your ultimate goal in life? I want to have made a visible positive difference to the way in which we farm.
If you were Defra secretary for the day and had the power to make one decision, what would it be? Pass some form of legislation that would encourage the on-farm uptake of proven precision farming technologies to rapidly improve the sustainability of UK agriculture.