Pinnacle Award winner

Farm management excellence in focus as judges quiz students in 18th Pinnacle Awards

See all the photos from the Awards Presentation here


In a closely fought contest the Pinnacle Award judges 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.

This year’s overall winner, Michael Almond, was the second Newcastle University student to win the award in four years. The competition is run by the Farmers Club and ADAS, with generous sponsorship from the Cave Foundation for the 18th consecutive year.  

Michael impressed the judges with his robust and well thought out contract farming tender for 120ha of challenging reclaimed open-cast mining on hill land above Consett. His strong interview performance, excellent business acumen and clear grasp of the practical realities of contract farming shone through throughout the day.

“Once again it was very difficult to separate the finalists,” stressed chairman of judges Prof David Leaver. He commended the number of projects pursuing realistic business strategies, reflecting what is actually happening on UK farms. “Balancing practical farming with business management and environmental/social/community issues, which are rightly gaining greater prominence, in an overall business strategy is not easy.” 

Farmers Club chairman Anne Chamberlain was struck by the determination of finalists to maximise every opportunity a farming situation offered. “Farms used to be defined by their core enterprises. But there is now much more of a perception of the farm as a resource, with a view, a landscape and a customer base nearby, for example, and the issue is about how best to derive a desired lifestyle from all that the farm has to offer, not just the established farming model.”

ADAS senior consultant Tony Turner commended Michael for his rigorous budgeting, which was accurate and particularly realistic, particularly around planned profits and risk handling. “Michael addressed the brief he had been given and understood the issues surrounding it well, demonstrating a wide knowledge of the sector. He had struck a sensible balance between sharing profits and risks, which showed a good understanding of what is actually happening on farms.”

Speaking at a celebratory dinner in the Club after a busy day of competition honorary guest Caroline Drummond, Chief Executive of the influential Linking Environment and Farming initiative, urged students to be true to their purpose, values and dreams; to take care of their health; invest in relationships; and be positive as they moved into the industry.

“The friends you make at university and college are relationships you will keep for life, and farming is a long-term industry too, so it is well worth investing time in your working relationships,” she said.

“Live your purpose, values and dreams, be positive about yourself, and make your own luck,” she continued, admitting that her own 25 year role with LEAF had stemmed from a 3-year project that completely captured her imagination.

Good health was also important. “Students are generally pretty healthy, but once they get out into the industry it is something they need to keep an eye on. It is something farming needs to focus on too, as the nation increasingly struggles with issues like obesity and diabetes,” she added.

Pinnacle Gold Award: Michael Almond, Newcastle University. Nickerson Cup and a cheque for £2000. Detailed rotation planning for 120ha former open-cast mining site, rising to 350m above sea level, with high gross margin spring barley optimised, and minimum tillage introduced to help raise organic matter levels and cut establishment costs. Profit and risk sharing fully detailed in a professional, yet simple, contract farming proposal with all aspects fully costed. Excellent awareness and explanation of issues, backed by a ready ability to answer probing questions realistically.

Pinnacle Silver Award: Alasdair Bailey, Reading University. Cheque for £1000. Worked with colleagues to improve beef and sheep grazing returns, add solar PV energy production, a vineyard and winery enterprise to an established estate with a thriving wedding venue business. Hops and apples could feature in the future. Lots of detailed budgeting and loan structuring, with a strong presentation style and good interview.

Pinnacle Bronze award: Will Hinton, Reading University. Cheque for £600. Worked with colleagues to develop a fascinating project to add a sheep milking and cheese-making enterprise to an established estate with a thriving wedding venue business. Outdoor pigs and parkland management also featured. Very detailed budgeting and loan structuring, great enthusiasm and an excellent presentation including virtual tour of 3D modelling of project.

Runner up: Robert Clunas, SRUC, Ayr. A fascinating project with colleagues to develop an integrated ATV helmet location/shock-sensor to alert emergency services in the event of an accident, following a near-death experience in the Highlands, including market research and projected sales growth.

Runner-up: Lauren Hladun, Nottingham University. Comparing commercial central grain storage with building a new on-farm store, with full consideration of logistics, drying costs, marketing strategies including hedging to offset limited sales period, labour demand and full budgeting.

Runner up: Ailsa Thomson, SRUC Ayr. Selling off a pedigree beef herd and replacing it with 750 Mule and Scottish Blackface sheep to lift total flock size to 1150 and managing those for optimum output, with detailed sensitivity analysis for price and lambing percentage.

Runner up: Jack Weeks, Royal Agricultural University, Cirencester. A whole-farm plan for a challenging National Trust tenancy, including extra beef, sheep and pigs for a lucrative frozen meat box scheme supplying a very loyal customer base and an expansion into organic arable.