Bridgwater student wins Pinnacle Award

Farm management excellence showcased as judges quiz students in 20th Pinnacle Awards

A wonderful selection of photos from the Event can be found in the Farmers Club Photo Gallery within the Library section of the website or directly at this link


ONE of the most keenly contested Pinnacle Awards for farm business management expertise in recent years saw students from Orkney to Somerset compete for top honours in the prestigious 2017 award run by the Farmers Club and ADAS, with generous sponsorship from the Cave Foundation.


“The award is well named, because all eight students really are the pinnacle of business management proficiency and excellence in the UK,” commented chair of judges Prof Bill McKelvey OBE, Non-Executive Director of Scotland’s largest farming business, Glenrath Farms, and a member of the Board of the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency amongst many other appointments.


“They had thought about Brexit, and recognised things were likely to get tougher, but were determined to fight it, and make it work, and not roll over. With such enthusiasm, knowledge and confidence they are going to add real value to the farming industry.”


The Pinnacle Awards, now in their 21st year, assess the business management skills of finalists by scrutinising a course-work project, before a panel interview and a formal presentation at the Farmers Club in London. “This was the tightest year for a decade, with the candidates all very closely matched,” commented ADAS judge Tony Turner.


After due deliberation the judges awarded top honours to Hannah Davis, a final-year student at Bridgwater and Taunton College in Somerset. Her project had tackled floundering profitability on a mixed farm by addressing each enterprise in turn, suggesting small but realistic improvements that would add-up to an overall boost in farm profits.


“So often it is by addressing the many small changes staring you in the face that performance is improved and the overall business transformed,” noted judge and Farmers Club Chairman Tim Bennett. “Management acumen is often the weakest link in UK agriculture and Hannah demonstrated its value very clearly.”


Raw milk

Honorary guest Richard Park of Low Sizergh Farm in Cumbria commended the enthusiasm of the finalists, recalling the time he delivered a project plan in similar circumstances at Shuttleworth College. His idea was to grow pick-your-own strawberries, in the Lake District. Two years later he planted three acres, people started visiting the farm, and today’s successful diversified farm business was born.


But not every enterprise will succeed, he noted. “Some fail. So start small and at low cost. No matter how much research you do, you might still be wrong, or the market might change, and the last thing you want is to be left with a large lump of steel worth half what it was six months ago.”


At Low Sizergh unpasteurised milk had been a great success. Customers buy bottles from one vending machine and fill them with milk from another. “It creates a bit of theatre, together with the viewing gallery over the milking parlour, and raw milk really is a very unusual product, with a completely different taste to pasteurised milk,” Mr Park enthused.


He urged finalists to seek inspiration from others farmers, in the UK and around the world. He had travelled widely and always found farmers to be very welcoming. “In no other industry will you find such a willingness to share facts and figures. But you do have to be nosey too,” he said. 


Books provide a rich source of advice too, including those from 50, 60 or even 80 years ago. “They’re very relevant, especially the early post-war ones, before we entered Europe. The problems they were talking about are the ones we are facing now.” He particularly recommended ‘The Farming Ladder’ by Cotswold farmer George Henderson.


Finally, he urged finalists to promote themselves, work hard and recognise that 50% of doing something is getting started. “And above all, enjoy what you do!”


2017 Pinnacle Awards Results


Hannah Davis, Bridgwater & Taunton College - Pinnacle Gold Award, Nickerson Cup and a cheque for £2000.

Numerous efficiency improvements and dropping under-performing enterprises would boost profits on a busy 153ha mixed farm, without major capital expenditure. Rather than add cows to the dairy, greater attention to detail and record keeping would improve productivity and reduce calf losses. Rigorous analysis of costs, equity, liquidity and gearing showed the need to drop second wheat, peas and spring wheat and barley, and grow more feed wheat, barley, maize and protein-rich leys to enhance dairy and beef rations. Readying the dairy for contract/share farming fitted the owners plans well.


Meredith Hoskin, Harper Adams University – Pinnacle Silver Award and a cheque for £1000.

A bold step to invest heavily in converting redundant farm buildings into three holiday lets geared to the fast growing market for disabled tourism was justified by extensive research, including competitor evaluations, assessment of occupancy and rental rates, and sensitivity analysis to identify break-even returns. An all-terrain buggy to enable disabled users to access the surrounding countryside would provide a USP. The project was underpinned by strong overall asset growth


Robbie Stevenson, SRUC Aberdeen – Pinnacle Bronze award and a cheque for £600.

Adding a simple bed and breakfast beef fattening unit to an existing livestock farm near a key auction mart and slaughterhouses would create additional stable cashflow and make good use of existing labour resource. A keenly priced single-span building with straw bedding for 120 head every 6 months was sourced for under £80,000, and on-farm and bought-in feed fully costed. Market research suggested a rate of 42p/day/head was feasible. 


Runners-up (in alphabetical order):


Will Ayre, Harper Adams University:

Three Safari tents would create a glamping enterprise in rural Shropshire, with a hot tub, pizza oven, barbecue and a coop of chickens for each unit providing differentiation from similar ventures. Careful consideration of opening dates and occupancy was backed by research showing ‘staycations’ rising as Brexit loomed.


Laura Davidson, Newcastle University:

New buildings on a green-field site for a suckler cow enterprise expanding from 100 to 150 cows plus followers were specified in meticulous detail to ensure optimum use of space, performance monitoring for efficiency, and high welfare, to meet anticipated consumer demands, even if Brexit allows cheaper imports.


James Davis, Nottingham University:

A plan to take over a 160ha arable farm tenancy included a move to direct drilling using second-hand kit to cut establishment costs, introduction of heifer rearing, and caravan storage, business unit lets and trailer advertising beside the M1 to ease early cashflow and ready the business for Brexit.


Craig MacCulloch, SRUC Ayr:

Producing a distinctive Ayrshire potato vodka from Epicure early potatoes grown near Girvan was the aim, with market research suggesting strong demand for craft spirits with a local provenance, hence the targeting of sales through local high-end pubs and restaurants, driven by ‘brand ambassador’ staff.  


Rupert Turnbull, Royal Agricultural University:

A business plan for the first three years of a 10 year FBT on a 387ha mixed farm in the Cotswolds would see a move away from organic production, but retention of some principles for greater sustainability and a focus on ‘outcomes not just outputs’. Spring lambing and crop rotation reflected the challenges of an exposed site.