They’re as good as any machine, working hard to improve soil quality and stability, reduce run off, filter water, provide shade and shelter for livestock and provide an additional crop of fruit, nuts, timber or woodfuel. We are already working with a number of farmers who have reported an increase in efficiency and productivity since introducing trees on to their land, but we always want to work with more.
So when we got the opportunity to attend the Farmers Weekly Awards, a showcase of all that is great about the industry, we jumped at the chance, shedding our wellies and waterproofs for black tie and ball gowns.
Energetically and enthusiastically hosted by broadcaster and national treasure Gyles Brandreth, more than 1200 innovative farmers from around the UK were present at the glittering ceremony held at The Grosvenor in London, as well as Environment Secretary Michael Gove MP, so it was a golden opportunity for us to talk to a large number of people about the role of trees on farms.
It was also great to be able to cheer on one of our farming ambassadors Tim Downes, who was up for Dairy Farmer of the Year with his wife Louise. Tim has benefited from the incorporation of trees on his land for sometime. He initially introduced them to aid with shelter, soil conditions and water management, but now believes there are significant benefits to be had in providing nutritional and medicinal fodder for his herd.
Agricultural Student of the Year
The Trust had sponsored the Agricultural Student of the Year award and we were delighted to present it to 21-year-old Josh Dowbiggin, of Barnoldswick, Lancashire. A student at Harper Adams University, Josh set up a number of businesses to help fund his education, including a stud, an elite pedigree Hereford sale and a small flock of ewes. Like the judges, we were impressed by his commitment, innovation and thirst for knowledge. Definitely one to watch.
Earlier this year we partnered with Farmers Weekly to find the ‘Rising Stars’ of farming. The magazine kindly hosted us and our stars, an inspirational group of 13 up and coming sector specialists, who we hope will champion our plans to plant more trees on farms. Some of them have already asked for advice for their own sites.
These pioneers of innovative farming are championing new, exciting ways to keep farms strong for the future. At the Trust, we support farmers to develop agricultural systems that are cost-effective and support the surrounding natural environment. It was great to be able to spend the evening with them.
Oliver Hall, 29, director and co-founder of Evolution Farming. Based in Ayrshire, Oliver’s firm specialises in farm management, particularly to the dairy industry;
Harriet Wilson, 25, senior agricultural manager for Co-op, responsible for dairy, fruit, vegetables and horticulture;
Abi Reader, a 35-year-old dairy herd manager farming a 300 hectare mixed farm near Cardiff who sits on a large range of industry groups including the NFU Dairy Board;
Dairy farmer brothers Jo and Edward Towers, 27 and 25, who have innovated their business by building it into a premium brand selling to London coffee shops, top hotels and Michelin-starred restaurants;
Richard Bower, 31, chairman of the NFU’s Next Generation Policy Forum. Richard, whose family business has 300 beef cattle and 200 hectares of combinable crops, is also vice-chairman of his local NFU branch in Stafford;
Robin Asquith, 28 is care farm manager for Camphill Village Trust as well as running his own farm business in Yorkshire. He has extensively studied the role UK agriculture can play in delivering social care;
Kit Franklin; a 27-year-old agricultural engineering lecturer, running a groundbreaking project to grow a hectare of spring barley using only autonomous machinery including adapted tractors and drones;
Ed Dale, 27, a manager for the Arbury Estate in Warwickshire, responsible for the day to day running of its 900 hectare farm;
NFU economist Rohit Kaushish, 30, who left a high flying banking career in London to study for a masters in ecological economics as he wanted to do something that contributed more to society, particularly the rural environment;
Kirsty Black, 35, a PhD student and distillery manager trying to change how Scotland’s spring malting barley crop is grown – replacing the application of inorganic nitrogen fertilizer with intercropped legumes;
Chris Manley, 32, who as an agricultural manager for Sainsbury’s led the restructuring of the company’s chicken supply chain to deliver a greater level of trust and transparency with farmers and processors working more closely for mutual benefit. He’s now retail group manager at Müller UK; and
Siobhan Gardner, 27, a livestock farmer’s daughter from Sussex who took the leap from plant biologist to robotics entrepreneur, setting up a company to develop automated drone infrastructure to make precision agriculture simpler and safer.