Jacqui Lanning, of Devonshire Poultry, has been adjudged ‘Farmer of the Year’ in the Devon Farm Business Awards, organised by the Addington Fund, the Devon County Agricultural Association (DCAA) and leading regional solicitors Stephens Scown.

She is the first woman to have been crowned Farmer of the Year since the awards were launched, five years ago, and – entirely appropriately – was presented with her award by the first woman to be President of the National Farmers Union, Minette Batters, at the awards ceremony last night (May 16).

Jacqui Lanning, who also took home the award for Devon’s Best Woman in Farming, is the co-owner and founder of Devonshire Poultry, a broiler chicken business encompassing six farms across three counties, based at Sheldon in the Blackdown Hills. She started the business with her husband Robert in 1991, and it now produces some 4.5 million table chickens a year, employing 11 people. Jacqui’s speciality is the unglamorous but vital work of ensuring compliance with the vast swathe of regulations to which a business on this scale is subject.

Lead judge for the Farmer of the Year award, Mole Valley Farmers’ Chairman, Graeme Cock, said: “Devonshire Poultry is a fantastic business which bases its entire marketing theme on Devon. Jacqui’s role in the business is absolutely vital, running as she does six very efficient and high welfare units across three counties from her Devon base. She is an outstanding winner.”

“Her focus and drive is obvious and she clearly loves her work”, observed judge Richard Townsend, who placed Jacqui top in the Best Woman in Farming category. “The future looks bright with a great team in place providing a solid foundation for future growth.”

The award for Best Commercial Farmer went to the Verney family of Crosse Farm, Bishops Nympton near South Molton. This is very much a family farming business, in which the two generations, David and Dawn Verney and their two sons James and Edward, are working together and to each other’s strengths as a formidable team.

It is a mixed farm, in which each enterprise complements the others. There is an 800 head herd of milking goats, producing milk for Delamere Dairy, a free-range poultry unit, producing eggs for Waitrose, a flock of 400 ewes and a substantial arable acreage. Manure from the goats and poultry boosts yields from the arable land and avoids the need to purchase artificial fertilisers, whilst the fact that the different enterprises produce income at different times of year helps to even out the overall cash flow, as well as providing insurance against problems in any particular market.

Devon’s Best Dairy Farmers for 2018 are the Williams family of Higher Hampton Farm, Shute, near Axminster, where they milk a 260 cow herd of home-bred Holstein Friesians. The cows are self-milked through four robots, enabling brothers Martin and Jon Williams and Jon’s son Ben, to focus on maximising cow health and welfare, and enabling them to boost yields to a remarkable average of 12200 per cow.

Robots are also used to keep the cows’ lying areas scraped and clean, and to measure and distribute feed for the cows. And besides all that, the main cattle building is temperature controlled, and there are even rotating brushes which the cows use when they need a scratch. It all adds up to a fine example of a modern dairy unit, making best use of technology, according to judge David Parish.

“This is a family business, striving for excellence”, he says. “All aspects of the development of the unit have been seriously thought through and it is immaculate, with bio-security measures in place”.

Christmas is the focus for the business which has won Lester and Helen Bowker this year’s CAAV John Neason Farm Diversification Award. It was in 2004 that the husband and wife team decided to start planting Christmas trees to supplement their dairy, beef, arable and cider apple enterprises on the 290 ha Cotley Farm at Wimple in East Devon. The next stage was a Christmas Shop, through which not only the trees but a whole range of other Christmas merchandise and produce is now sold, providing seasonal employment for 25 people.   There is even a small herd of reindeer which are available to hire for events in the run-up to Christmas!

Last Christmas, some 10,000 people visited the Bowkers’ shop, enabling them to donate thousands of pounds to charity. Lester and Helen told the judges: “We wanted to be a West Country-based niche business supporting other local businesses for local people whilst avoiding the feel of commerciality”.

Devon’s Best Young Farmer for 2018 is Molly Westwood, who runs her Panda Holsteins dairy cow genetics business from the family farm at Molland on the edge of Exmoor. Although still only in her early 20s, she has acquired a formidable reputation for her knowledge of embryo transfer and related technology and her success in the show ring. In 2016, for example, one of her cattle made the top price at the prestigious Carlisle Black and White sale, while her heifers score consistently highly in the Holstein UK herdbook classification scheme.   All of this is on top of her full-time job with Mastergen in Taunton, and she still finds time to teach other young cattle breeders the skills involved in breeding and showing cattle.

The judges’ verdict: “Molly has developed a strong business acumen. She exudes great passion for her cows and her business in general, and has a clear vision and strategy for taking her business forward over the next decade.”

Devon’s Farming Champion for 2018 will need no introduction to the hill farming community, not just in Devon, but across the whole of England. He is Robin Milton, of Higher Barton Farm, West Anstey on Exmoor, the recently retired Chairman of the NFU’s Uplands Forum and now Chairman of the Exmoor National Park Authority. During his six years as the NFU’s leading spokesman on hill farming he has acquired a national reputation for his advcocacy and dedication. And now that he has served the maximum term of office in that role, he has shifted his focus to Exmoor, having played a pivotal role in producing the policy document “Exmoor’s Ambition”, pointing the way forward for the National Park and its inhabitants in a post-Brexit world.

“Robin has done a sterling job representing upland farmers from across the country in his role as Chairman of the NFU Uplands Forum”, says judge Mark Weekes. “He has been a regular visitor to Defra and numerous other organisations in his quest for a profitable future for upland farmers, whilst “Exmoor’s Ambition” sets out a transformative plan to sustain and enhance Exmoor’s farmed landscape and community after Brexit.”


For more information about the Devon Farm Business Awards please contact events@addingtonfund.org.uk.