HARPERS Adams University student Katie Woolliscroft triumphed over stiff opposition to secure top honours in the prestigious 2016 Pinnacle Awards run by the Farmers Club and ADAS, with generous sponsorship from the Cave Foundation.
Her diversification plans for a tenanted farm in Derbyshire showcased innovative thinking, entrepreneurial flair and sound management skills on a day when the judges were seeking practical solutions to help farming endure one of the sharpest downturns for decades.
“Industries that are in difficulty are industries that innovate, and change, and this year’s finalists recognised that,” commented Prof Bill McKelvey, chairman of judges. “With most commodity sectors losing money farms need to look outside the box, and that means looking at alternative land uses to help maintain a viable business.”
The Pinnacle Awards, in their 19th year, assessed the business management skills of finalists through detailed scrutiny of a course-work project, followed by a panel interview and then a formal presentation at the Farmers Club in London.
Katie impressed the judges with her innovative thinking, confident presentation skills, keen business acumen and recognition of the practical realities of making a diversification work in a competitive marketplace. “Katie had explored the opportunities for grant funding, worked hard on her unique selling points, and responded particularly well to questioning,” noted Farmers Club Chairman Richard Butler.
Realistic returns on capital invested were crucial. “The easiest place to make a profit is on paper,” as one finalist noted. Industry awareness was particularly important, said ADAS senior consultant Tony Turner. “Projects need to take full account of the real world, and this was an area where some big pitfalls let some candidates down.”
Honorary guest Anna Hills of BBC Radio 4’s early morning Farming Today programme commended the enthusiasm of the finalists, and urged them to think about speaking up for their industry. “My challenge to you is to prepare to answer the questions journalists will ask you, such as why animals need to be kept in buildings and why crops need treating with chemicals.”
Farming had not been that good at getting its message across so far, she said. “I want to talk to people, like you, in the field in their wellies. Real stories about real people. You need to be able to step up and answer questions about being a clean industry, producing food with care and looking after the environment. If you can’t, you really shouldn’t be in the industry.”
Listening to experience could pay dividends, she suggested. “I am just a journalist. But I listen very hard to the people who know what really matters. We have to really treasure that knowledge, because very often it is not the sort of thing you can find in books. You need to take account of it as you look at modernising and diversifying your farms.”
2016 Pinnacle Awards Results
Katie Woolliscroft, Harper Adams University - Pinnacle Gold Award, Nickerson Cup and a cheque for £2000.
Three possible diversifications for a tenanted farm were explored and a plan for creating an on-farm brewery chosen and developed into a sound commercial proposition. Good market research recognised strong local competition, but differentiation through provenance, including a signature festive rye beer using home-grown grain underpinned a feedback-for-a-free-swap system of enabling product fine-tuning, backed by keen early pricing to encourage local pub uptake. Realistic borrowing, good labour planning, a sensible limited company structure, Leader grant application, exit strategy and keen awareness of regulatory requirements demonstrated a robust approach to business planning.
Heather Kerr, SRUC Ayr – Pinnacle Silver Award and a cheque for £1000.
An innovative low-risk plan to develop a green burial site with stunning sea views beside an attractive woodland was backed by a coherent marketing plan to attract interest from the growing proportion of the almost 1million people living nearby who research showed felt a connection to nature and the environment, and wanted a burial with minimal impact, or preferably a positive impact. Realistic costings, and finance from farming profits, with no borrowing, were allied to a sound understanding of the target audience’s ethos.
Harry Holt, Bridgwater College – Pinnacle Bronze award and a cheque for £600.
Together with a colleague a plan was developed to help a tenanted dairy farm cope with the reality of an unprofitable milk price. A revised budget based on rigorous cost control saw arable operations and their overheads ditched, with realistic on-farm solutions to boost dairy output detailed, so the business could survive sector rationalisation and hopefully reap better prices in the future. A pragmatic approach, backed by determination and good industry knowledge.
Runners-up (in alphabetical order):
Georgina Barratt, Nottingham University:
A business plan for the first three years of a new tenancy on an arable operation focused on more efficient arable cropping and contracting, a fascinating diversification into a 20 day/year simulated driven game clay shoot and opportunistic turkey rearing to use spare labour and buildings.
Nicola Blowey, Harper Adams University:
Developing a goat kid meat enterprise on a tenanted farm with direct meat marketing experience focused on sales over the internet and at farmer’s markets, supplemented by local restaurant supply. High risk was traded off against low entry costs and a planned exit strategy.
Joe Campbell, Newcastle University:
A plan to transition out of dairy into suckler beef was the challenge Joe’s team had been set. Alternatives were considered and a closed spring calving commercial suckler herd, plus pedigree Angus enterprise resulted, with detailed costings. Sheep opportunities were discussed.
John Sansome, Reading University:
Detailed financial planning with colleagues to exploit untapped potential on a large, well-structured estate with major diversification projects already in place. Major borrowings would finance an on-farm gin distillery, premium beef and sheep enterprises, on-farm butchery and solar PV energy.
Daniel Taylor, SRUC Edinburgh:
Together with colleagues a plan to manufacture, market and distribute a Scottish Thistle branded vodka made from milk whey from a local cheese producer. Market research identified demand, with sales planned via social media, farm shops, farmers markets and high-end stores and bars.