We joined forces with Devon County Agricultural Association (DCAA) and award winning South West lawyers Stephens Scown LLP, to launch the Devon Farm Business Awards 2015, and the search has been on for the best and most inspiring farmers in Devon.
The aim is to highlight how innovative and vibrant farming in Devon has become, and to identify industry leaders who can serve as role models for other farmers to emulate in taking the industry forward.
The short-listed entries for this year’s Devon Farm Business Awards painted a fascinating picture of a dynamic industry being led by the younger generation through a process of rapid development and change.
Most of the potential winners were in their 20s and 30s. Many of the businesses were run by husband and wife teams as equal partners. And they were all, without exception, innovators, whether that be in new techniques, new products or new ways of doing business.
One of the strongest themes among the short-listed entries is that of younger farmers, coming back to the family farm after broadening their horizons through education and travel, and revolutionising the business. In one case, on a north Devon dairy farm, this involved increasing cow numbers from 180 to over 400. In another, in East Devon, the son of the family has overseen the process of completely re-imagining the family dairy enterprise, complete with new cubicle buildings, a new state of the art milking parlour, and even an entirely new dairy herd.
Meanwhile, near Tiverton, a farmer’s son and his wife had, in the space of little more than ten years, trebled the size of the farm, created an industrial estate from redundant farm buildings and set up a business growing thousands of acres of maize for local AD (anaerobic digestion) plants.
Diversification is still very much the name of the game in Devon farming, and not just among the short-listed entries for the CAAV John Neason Diversification Award. There are quails and ducks eggs, specialist goat meat production, organic vegetable boxes, wool in all its many forms, farm shops, restaurants and an ice cream parlour – plus a farmer who claimed to be the only one in Devon not just to rear, slaughter, butcher and retail his own cattle, but even to cook and serve them in his own on-farm café. That’s farm to fork, if you like!
When it comes to the differing styles of farming, the short-listed entries offered a good mix, particularly among the dairy farms, with both those using intensive methods to achieve very high levels of output, and those specialising in grazed grass in low cost systems, strongly represented. However, despite the recent slump in milk prices, the accent with all of the dairy farms on the list is very firmly on expansion.
Sustainability was another major theme. One of the short-listed farms is fully organic, but almost all have invested in renewable energy, wildlife and conservation features or farming and countryside education.
The Devon Farm Business Awards are organised jointly by the Devon County Agricultural Association (DCAA), the Addington Fund and Stephens Scown Solicitors. Richard Maunder, the Chief Executive of the DCAA, described the short-list as “a roll-call of farming excellence”.
“We started these awards last year to highlight the many good things that are happening in Devon farming, and to bust the myth that ours is a backward-looking industry run by old men. But I must admit that even I have been surprised by the sheer diversity of what is happening in farming at present, and the extent to which that is being driven by the younger generation.
“It is a great short-list, not just because it includes so many brilliant farming businesses, but because it covers so many different types, styles and sizes of farm. There are examples on it from which everyone can learn, and that’s what this awards scheme is all about.”
For the Addington Fund’s Chief Executive, Ian Bell, the short-list provides clear evidence of the resilience of Devon farming, in what has not been an easy year.
“We’ve seen falling prices for milk, corn and now beef. As we at the Addington Fund know only too well, there is real hardship out there. But what is striking about the farms which have made the short-list is that they have allowed for greater volatility in their business plans, they are determined not to be knocked out of their stride by short-term price movements and they remain confident about the future, both for their own businesses and for the industry as a whole. There are important and encouraging lessons there for everyone in farming.”
Phil Reed, partner and head of rural services at Stephens Scown solicitors, added.
“The standard of this year’s entries is very impressive and together with the innovation displayed highlights the level of talent here in Devon. Perhaps even more encouraging are the ages of those nominated, showing that farming has a future.”
Devon Farmer of the Year – John and Clare Clapp, Red Linhay, Halberton
Best Commercial Farmers, sponsored by Francis Clark – John and Clare Clapp
Dairy Farmer of the Year, sponsored by Stephens Scown – Gavin Fowler, Boode Farm, Braunton
Best Woman in Farming, sponsored by Natwest – Caroline Trude, Hoop Farm, Clyst Hydon
Devon’s Farming Champion, sponsored by the NFU – John Lee OBE FRAgS, Crediton
Lifetime Achievement Award, sponsored by Cornish Mutual – Ranald Fowler, Boode Farm, Braunton
CAAV John Neason Award for Farm Diversification – John Coles, East Hill, Ottery St. Mary.
Please go to this link for more details https://www.addingtonfund.org.uk/devon-farm-business-awards-winners-announced/
Click here to view Devon Farm Business Awards 2015 photographs and to see footage from the event go to this link https://youtu.be/5v9y2F8GBgY