Devon Farm Business Awards
The Devon Farm Business Awards awards highlight the excellence and dynamism of farming in Devon at a time of great uncertainty within the agricultural sector and are organised by the Addington Fund, the Devon County Agricultural Association (DCAA) and leading regional solicitors Stephens Scown.
“By turning the spotlight on those businesses, and highlighting the lessons they provide, the awards have a key role in equipping us for that future. Not just the DCAA, but the industry as a whole in Devon and beyond, owes a great debt of gratitude to our sponsors for making the awards possible, with all the benefits they bring.”
Last year, Jacqui Lanning, of Devonshire Poultry, was crowned Farmer of the Year; she also took home the award for Devon’s Best Woman in Farming. She is the co-owner and founder of Devonshire Poultry, a broiler chicken business encompassing six farms across three counties, based at Sheldon in the Blackdown Hills. She started the business with her husband Robert in 1991, and it now produces some 4.5 million table chickens a year, employing 11 people. Jacqui’s speciality is the unglamorous but vital work of ensuring compliance with the vast swathe of regulations to which a business on this scale is subject.
Lead judge for the Farmer of the Year award, Mole Valley Farmers’ Chairman, Graeme Cock, said: “Devonshire Poultry is a fantastic business which bases its entire marketing theme on Devon. Jacqui’s role in the business is absolutely vital, running as she does six very efficient and high welfare units across three counties from her Devon base. She is an outstanding winner.”
“Her focus and drive is obvious and she clearly loves her work”, observed judge Richard Townsend, who placed Jacqui top in the Best Woman in Farming category. “The future looks bright with a great team in place providing a solid foundation for future growth.”
The award for Best Commercial Farmer went to the Verney family of Crosse Farm, Bishops Nympton near South Molton. This is very much a family farming business, in which the two generations, David and Dawn Verney and their two sons James and Edward, are working together and to each other’s strengths as a formidable team.
It is a mixed farm, in which each enterprise complements the others. There is an 800 head herd of milking goats, producing milk for Delamere Dairy, a free-range poultry unit, producing eggs for Waitrose, a flock of 400 ewes and a substantial arable acreage. Manure from the goats and poultry boosts yields from the arable land and avoids the need to purchase artificial fertilisers, whilst the fact that the different enterprises produce income at different times of year helps to even out the overall cash flow, as well as providing insurance against problems in any particular market.
Devon’s Best Dairy Farmers for 2018 were named as the Williams family of Higher Hampton Farm, Shute, near Axminster, where they milk a 260 cow herd of home-bred Holstein Friesians. The cows are self-milked through four robots, enabling brothers Martin and Jon Williams and Jon’s son Ben, to focus on maximising cow health and welfare, and enabling them to boost yields to a remarkable average of 12200 per cow.
Robots are also used to keep the cows’ lying areas scraped and clean, and to measure and distribute feed for the cows. And besides all that, the main cattle building is temperature controlled, and there are even rotating brushes which the cows use when they need a scratch. It all adds up to a fine example of a modern dairy unit, making best use of technology, according to judge David Parish.
“This is a family business, striving for excellence”, he says. “All aspects of the development of the unit have been seriously thought through and it is immaculate, with bio-security measures in place”.
Christmas is the focus for the business which won the CAAV John Neason Farm Diversification Award, Lester and Helen Bowker. It was in 2004 that the husband and wife team decided to start planting Christmas trees to supplement their dairy, beef, arable and cider apple enterprises on the 290 ha Cotley Farm at Whimple in East Devon. The next stage was a Christmas Shop, through which not only the trees but a whole range of other Christmas merchandise and produce is now sold, providing seasonal employment for 25 people. There is even a small herd of reindeer which are available to hire for events in the run-up to Christmas!
Last Christmas, some 10,000 people visited the Bowkers’ shop, enabling them to donate thousands of pounds to charity. Lester and Helen told the judges: “We wanted to be a West Country-based niche business supporting other local businesses for local people whilst avoiding the feel of commerciality”.
Devon’s Best Young Farmer for 2018, Molly Westwood, runs her Panda Holsteins dairy cow genetics business from the family farm at Molland on the edge of Exmoor. Although still only in her early 20s, she has acquired a formidable reputation for her knowledge of embryo transfer and related technology and her success in the show ring. In 2016, for example, one of her cattle made the top price at the prestigious Carlisle Black and White sale, while her heifers score consistently highly in the Holstein UK herdbook classification scheme. All of this is on top of her full-time job with Mastergen in Taunton, and she still finds time to teach other young cattle breeders the skills involved in breeding and showing cattle.
The judges’ verdict: “Molly has developed a strong business acumen. She exudes great passion for her cows and her business in general, and has a clear vision and strategy for taking her business forward over the next decade.”
Devon’s Farming Champion for 2018 needs no introduction to the hill farming community, not just in Devon, but across the whole of England. He is Robin Milton, of Higher Barton Farm, West Anstey on Exmoor, the recently retired Chairman of the NFU’s Uplands Forum and now Chairman of the Exmoor National Park Authority. During his six years as the NFU’s leading spokesman on hill farming he has acquired a national reputation for his advcocacy and dedication. And now that he has served the maximum term of office in that role, he has shifted his focus to Exmoor, having played a pivotal role in producing the policy document “Exmoor’s Ambition”, pointing the way forward for the National Park and its inhabitants in a post-Brexit world.
“Robin has done a sterling job representing upland farmers from across the country in his role as Chairman of the NFU Uplands Forum”, says judge Mark Weekes. “He has been a regular visitor to Defra and numerous other organisations in his quest for a profitable future for upland farmers, whilst “Exmoor’s Ambition” sets out a transformative plan to sustain and enhance Exmoor’s farmed landscape and community after Brexit.”
The Life Time Achievement Award was presented to retiring Devon County Show Secretary Ollie Allen.
Ollie Allen took over as Secretary of the Devon County Show in 1997 after cutting her organisational teeth at the Royal Bath and West; also she has served the wider show community as a Council member of the ASAO (Association of Show and Agricultural Organisations) and was elected chairman from 2013-15.
“There can be no-one more deserving now of this lifetime achievement award; the entire farming community in Devon owes her a huge debt of gratitude,” said Susie Murray from Stephens Scown announcing the winners.
“In the 21 years since then, Ollie has been the woman who makes the show happen; channelling, finessing and guiding the passion and commitment of hundreds of volunteers and a small, dedicated staff team, at the same time as attracting and nurturing the trade stands, the livestock exhibitors and the sponsors, to create one of the finest and best organised agricultural shows in the country,” continued Susie Murray.
A Special Award was presented to four young people who have taken over the running of the family farm after their father fell seriously ill with cancer.
They are Megan, Ross, Jack and Sam Broom, of Logshayne Farm, Colyton in East Devon, where they milk 350 Holstein cows. When their father Nigel Broom was diagnosed with advanced cancer of the stomach in November 2015, not only was it a massive blow to the family, but it also had potentially serious implications for the farm business.
But the three eldest children, Megan, Ross and Jack, aged 21, 19 and 18 respectively, rose to the challenge of running what is by any standards a substantial farming business, and have since been joined by younger brother Sam.
They were nominated for the awards by vet Bridget Goscomb, of the Vale Veterinary Practice, after she had visited the farm to supervise TB testing, involving some 570 animals.
“You could not help but be inspired by them, and the way they combine running a large and complex business with great care for the countryside to support the continued balance of rural life. My colleagues at the Vale Veterinary Practice wholeheartedly share my enthusiasm for this nomination,” she said.
Sheila Cole, Chairman of Trustees of the Addington Fund said: “The Devon Farm Business Awards are a wonderful opportunity to celebrate all that is great about Devon’s farmers. The Addington Fund is deeply committed to helping the farming community in Devon. Farmers are not great at singing their own praises, but these awards are a real chance for the county’s farmers to receive the recognition they so richly deserve. The trustees are very grateful for the ongoing support of Stephens Scown, Devon County Agricultural Association and all the sponsors, which has contributed greatly to the success of the Awards.”
Phil Reed, partner and head of rural services at Stephens Scown said: “Farmers are notoriously reluctant to shout about their success, but that is exactly what we need to do. The Devon Farm Business Awards is our way of saying thank you and celebrating success. Please take the time to put yourself forward, or nominate another farmer who is doing great things. We need to give the sector the recognition it deserves for the enormous contribution it makes to all of our lives.”
Mrs Mary Quicke MBE, Chairman of the DCAA, said: “The Devon Farm Business Awards provide so many inspiring examples of how family farming businesses are rising to the many challenges of today’s world. And that has never been more important, given the many uncertainties that still surround the Brexit process and its implications for farming. What we can be sure of, however, is that the best farming businesses, in terms not only of production efficiency, but also customer focus and environmental awareness, will survive and prosper whatever the future holds.
Best Commercial Farmer - sponsored by PKF Francis Clark LLP
Best Dairy Farmer - sponsored by Crediton Dairy
The CAAV John Neason Diversification Award - sponsored by Devon County Council, County Farms Estate
Devon’s Best Young Farmer - sponsored by Savills
Best Woman in Farming - sponsored by NatWest
Farming Champion - sponsored by NFU and NFU Mutual
Lifetime Achievement Award - sponsored by Cornish Mutual
Devon’s Farmer of the Year - sponsored by Mole Valley Farmers - is awarded from the category winners.