See the photo gallery from the awards evening here https://www.flickr.com/photos/farmersclublondon/albums/72157694482692411
Harper Adams University student Reuben Wilson has clinched top honours in the 2018 Pinnacle Awards for expertise in farm business management, run by the Farmers Club and ADAS, with generous sponsorship from the Cave Foundation.
Hot on his heels were Silver Award winner Andrew Butt of Bridgwater College and Bronze Award winner Sarah Dean of Harper Adams University, beating off highly innovative projects from SRUC Ayr and Aberdeen and the Royal Agricultural University at Cirencester.
The judging panel led by Professor Bill McKelvey, Non-Executive Director of Glenrath Farms, alongside Farmers Club Chairman Peter Jinman, Tony Turner of ADAS and Farmers Club Editor Charles Abel, was looking for innovation, tempered with realism, sound market research, accurate financial analysis, a robust business strategy, good communication skills and a willingness to ask challenging questions.
“Our eight finalists really do represent the pinnacle of agricultural and rural students across the UK,” reflected Prof McKelvey. “Their awards recognise their personal achievement and development, and most of all their potential for the future. It’s extremely encouraging to see such a high level of business management skill.”
From a non-farming background Reuben brought fresh thinking to a project to convert redundant farm buildings into a day-care centre for the elderly. Inspired by a visit to the Netherlands, where care farming is strongly supported, Reuben weighed alternative options first, before embarking upon detailed market research, competitor analysis and careful budgeting to produce a very viable and innovative business proposal. He won a cheque for £2000 and the Nickerson Cup.
Andrew Butt had fully scoped and costed a very practical move to robot milking and associated herd expansion, with clear sensitivity analysis, while Sarah Dean’s plan to develop two derelict farm properties into holiday accommodation included clear market positioning, backed by excellent financial analysis, good market research and clear exit strategies. They won £1000 and £600 respectively.
Students were initially sifted on a course-work project, with the top eight invited to the Farmers Club in London for a panel interview followed by a short presentation and group question and answer session. All finalists received a year’s membership of the Farmers Club.
“We had the greatest variety of projects we’ve ever seen this year, from conventional farm enterprises, through property development to some very innovative uses of farm products and by-products, which made judging quite difficult,” added Prof McKelvey.
With Brexit uncertainties looming it was no surprise to see a rise in diversification projects, Mr Turner added. “We had an almost unbelievable level of innovation, which is a clear response to the changing times in farming.”
To give projects the greatest credibility rigorous research was needed to tease out all the available information, Mr Jinman noted. “There’s a lot of data available and using it to make a project stand up is absolutely vital.”
The five runners-up were:
Kerry Cartwright, SRUC Aberdeen – introducing an outdoor pig enterprise onto a sheep and arable farm in Aberdeenshire, with a view to supplying hog roasts with a strong provenance story
Daniel Livingston, SRUC Ayr – a novel new use for Scottish spring barley, using a Peruvian recipe to create barley coffee, an alternative, caffeine-free hot beverage
Imogen Proctor-Coughlan, Royal Agricultural University – marketing refresh of Muddy Wellies craft-brewed beer and cider brands, to raise funds for student entrepreneurs through social enterprise
Taylor Ellison Quinn, SRUC Ayr – a convenient squeezable blend of Ayrshire butter and Scottish oilseed rape oil, in creamy natural, lemon and garlic flavours
Skye Robb, SRUC Ayr – a highly innovative use of beer manufacturing by-product to create a biodegradable replacement for plastic and cardboard packaging of canned beers
Abi Reader inspires students
Guest speaker Abi Reader, a third generation dairy farmer from near Cardiff, spoke passionately about having the determination to pursue an ambition, even if it wasn’t always clear what that ambition was from the outset.
Returning to the family farm from the Royal Agricultural University at Cirencester she had plenty of time to think whilst cleaning down a traditional milking parlour every day. “I decided I didn’t want to do what grandfather had done, but wasn’t sure what I did want to do. But I decided to get some leadership training and see where it led.”
Securing that training wasn’t easy, but persistence paid off, and led her to reflect on the importance of supporting the wider industry. “First and foremost I’m a dairy farmer, but I also have the whole industry to think about, because if it is not healthy then neither is my business.”
With that in mind she became increasingly involved in Open Farm Sunday. Although daunting initially, it proved hugely rewarding, with up to 3000 visitors attending each June. It led to the ‘cows on tour’ initiative to take farming into classrooms, especially in less-privileged urban areas. Making the most of the resulting media interest had helped to raise awareness of farming issues, including a recent appearance on BBC Countryfile.
“If you want something, you just say ‘yes’ when opportunities come and work out how you’re going to get there later,” enthused Abi, who is now an NFU Dairy Board member, AHDB Dairy Ambassador and won the 2016 Wales Woman Farmer of the Year. “If you want something, and show people you want it, you’re much more likely to achieve.”
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