The Farmers Club Pinnacle Awards 2023

NOTTINGHAM University student James Drysdale has scooped the 2023 Farmers Club Pinnacle Award for farm business management. Sponsored by the Cave Foundation and run with consultancy firm ADAS this prestigious competition drew entries from colleges and universities across the United Kingdom.

A NOTTINGHAM University student has scooped the 2023 Farmers Club Pinnacle Award for farm business management.


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 James Drysdale of Nottingham University, with Tim Cotterill from Harper Adams University second, and Anna Frick also from Harper Adams third.


Practical solutions

Celebrating its 26th year the competition seeks to identify young people destined to lead rural businesses in the future, an ambition first realised by awards instigator and 1997 Club Chairman, Roy Walker, nephew of the late Wilfrid Cave.


The 2023 judges were keen to see detailed plans that would help farms cope as support payments fall. A firm grasp of the key principles of business planning, finance, cashflow and sensitivity analysis was essential.


Prof William McKelvey, Chair of the judging panel, commended the finalists for their dedication and commitment. Their efforts were scrutinised by a judging panel of ADAS Technical Director Business Management James Dunn, Farmers Club Chairman, West Wales farmer and former NFU President Meurig Raymond, and ADAS Agri Business Consultant Josh Brock.


The interviews, presentations, awards ceremony and celebration dinner were all held in the Club’s Farmers Suite overlooking the River Thames in the heart of London.


The keenly contested competition saw ADAS sift a long-list of entrants to generate a shortlist of eight for interview in the Club. Key criteria for judging day were the ability to write a report concisely, a determination to defend it, clear presentation style, strong communication skills, and a good degree of common sense, and self-confidence.


“Deciding a winner was the hardest it has been for some years,” noted Prof McKelvey. But participation in the awards is a boost for all who attend finals day. “A number of the students expressed how very grateful they were for the opportunity to be involved in the competition.”


The awards were presented by guest speaker and Farmers Club Committee Member Tom Rawson, who gave an inspiring after dinner talk about his innovative dairy business operating across several counties in the UK. 


Opportunities seized

A strong focus on practical farming was important for the judges. “From a farm business management perspective the finalists all demonstrated an ability to analyse new enterprises that would add profitability to farming businesses at a time of great challenge,” noted Mr Dunn.


“The future of agriculture and rural activities is in very safe hands,” agreed Mr Raymond. “I was particularly inspired by their presentations.”


In his final year as chair of judges Prof McKelvey wished new chair Prof Nigel Scollan of Queen’s University, Belfast all the best for 2024. “I have enjoyed chairing the panel for eight years and have been greatly inspired by the enthusiasm and professionalism of the students.”


After the formalities the finalists, judges, family, friends and tutors joined to enjoy a fine celebration dinner, including a Sea Bass & Spinach Mousse starter, main course of Suffolk Guinea Fowl and desert of Caramel & Hazelnut Royal Pastry Crown.

In a rousing after-dinner talk Mr Rawson encouraged students to embrace the opportunities available to them. Having left Harper Adams in 1999 he returned home to the family tenancy milking 50 cows on 150 acres in West Yorkshire, soon focusing on growing the enterprise by establishing a system of dairying that worked for the business.

He spoke about his major influences, which included joining a New Zealand consultant-led discussion group where Tom bought into pasture-based dairying with crossbred block calving cows, and also the impact of undertaking a Nuffield Farming Scholarship in 2005. Both would have a deep impact on his career and wider business. By joining forces with a number of business partners Tom today owns a third of Evolution Farming employing around 80 people across nine dairy farms, beef and sheep as well as around 1000 acres of combinable crops.

See finalist reports at:


Pinnacle Gold, Nickerson Cup, £2000 

James Drysdale, Nottingham University

A tenancy bid included diversifications into rye and borage, rearing ducks and ewe lambs, dog exercise fields, a sunflower maze and hay re-baling, all carefully costed, with detailed plans and market research.


Pinnacle Silver, £1000

Tim Cotterill, Harper Adams University

Creating and promoting two high quality dog exercise fields near a major population centre, with careful consideration of occupancy rates and sensitivity analysis of possible booking shortfalls.


Pinnacle Bronze, £600

Anna Frick, Harper Adams University

An on-farm outdoor gym, with an small in-door gym and activity room, was fully costed, with analysis of local competitors and detailed marketing plans.


Pinnacle Awards 2023 – Runners-up – All finalists receive one-year free Club membership

Holly Bonner, Bridgewater & Taunton University

A new dairy goat enterprise on a tenanted farm included good practical detail, well researched marketing options and good costings.


Sarah Bramwell, Newcastle University

Block cropping and environmental options, plus a machinery strategy and benchmarking were considered for the college farm.


Oliver Dascombe, Bridgewater & Taunton University

Detailed analysis of the benefits from adding a robot milker to the college farm, including practical issues, costs and welfare considerations.


Lauren Haining, SRUC

Drone usage, linked to detailed mapping and at-cost nutrient supply, ready for drone spraying once legal, with a novel co-operative structure.


Stewart Mcilwraith, SRUC

Locally branded hot chocolate bags produced on-farm were fully explored, including market options and business structure.