RESPONDING to the challenges of declining support payments was a key theme in the 2021 Farmers Club Pinnacle Awards for farm business management students.
Sponsored by the Cave Foundation and run with consultancy firm ADAS this prestigious competition drew entries from colleges and universities across the United Kingdom.
Overall winner was Harry Davies of Harper Adams University, with Jacques Luckins of Bridgwater & Taunton College placed second and Rory Oliver from Newcastle University third.
The competition champions realistic projects and people capable of driving rural businesses forwards in uncertain times, with the judges keen to see in-depth plans to help farms cope with Basic Payment cuts, backed by a strong awareness of cashflow, profit and capital, and how they link together.
After a bit of a hiatus last year, caused by the covid pandemic, the awards returned to a more normal format this year, with interviews, presentations, an awards ceremony and celebration dinner all held in the Club in September.
Jimmy McLean, Chair of the judging panel, commended the finalists for their dedication in a difficult year. “With studies disrupted, and students unable to meet farmers and lecturers face-to-face, this year’s projects have been more difficult to develop than usual. It really is a tremendous achievement to get to the finals.”
The judging panel also included ADAS principal business consultant Tony Turner, Farmers Club Chairman and Kelso farmer Keith Redpath and Farmers Club Journal Editor Charles Abel.
Key criteria for the awards are precise project reports, with a succinct explanation of the business case, backed by robust financial analysis. “Some of the home truths around declining support are going to be very difficult to swallow for many farm businesses, so projects do need to look at this and where we are going as an industry,” noted Mr Turner.
The keenly contested competition saw ADAS draw up a shortlist of 8 entries from 15 submitted, with finalists interviewed in the Club in mid-September. Choosing the winners was not easy, the judges deliberating for over an hour before arriving at a final decision.
Pinnacle Gold, Nickerson Cup, £2000
Harry Davies, Harper Adams University
Robust plans for a low-risk added-value diversification enterprise, leveraging customer skills from an existing farm-shop, without impinging on a strong core farming enterprise. Detailed market analysis revealed significant demand for secure premium-priced caravan storage. Full-costings, including occupancy and price sensitivity, loan amortisation, P+L and crucially, cashflow analysis. Robust approach to planning approval and pricing. A realistic proposal with confident interview and presentation skills.
Pinnacle Silver, £1000
Jacques Luckins, Bridgwater & Taunton College
Investigation revealed forage-based sucklers or grass/maize-fed finishers were a no-go for the college farm. But detailed costings, with cashflow and sensitivity analysis, showed carbon-friendly rose veal could work. Crisp presentation, good practical awareness, including NVZ and specialist ration plans, and realism in the face of declining support.
Pinnacle Bronze, £600
Rory Oliver, Newcastle University
Moving to block cropping on three farm units more than 20 miles apart would minimise travel time and fuel costs, while maximising machinery cost savings, to counter BPS cuts. Financial data allowed for agronomic implications, a move to min-till and adoption of Enhanced Over-wintered Stubbles.
Pinnacle Awards 2021 - Runners-up (all finalists receive one-year free Club membership)
Robyn Gibbons, Nottingham University
Tweaking an arable rotation, introducing Dexter cattle and developing Shepherd’s Hut accommodation in an English kitchen garden setting. Good data analysis, clear plans and great enthusiasm.
Roy McColm, SRUC Ayr
Organic yoghurt from unusual White Galloway cattle backed by a strong Dumfries and Galloway provenance story for local food outlets. Detailed plan, good marketing ideas and charismatic presentation.
Emily Mosley, Harper Adams University
Converting a derelict stone barn into two accessible holiday lets close to Chatsworth House. Detailed plans and strong financial analysis – justifying a brave, but correct, ‘not now’ recommendation.
Tom Procter, Newcastle University
Detailed data crunching for a dairy-based mixed farm, using a range of analytical tools to understand strengths and weaknesses. A forensic approach, great detail and useful recommendations.
Madeleine Twidale, Nottingham University
Analysis of an existing arable farm rotation, re-mechanisation at lower cost, plus plans for new calf-rearing and goat-meat enterprises. Ambitious, costed and enthusiastic.
Finalist reports can be found at: www.thefarmersclub.com/library/pinnacle-awards-reports