Once again, the short-list for the Devon Farm Business awards presents a fascinating cross-section of what is happening in farming in the West Country.
The common threads running through all of the farm businesses which are up for an award at the presentation evening on the eve of this year’s Devon County Show (May 19-21) are enterprise, innovation, market focus and family farming.
The awards are organised by a partnership of the Addington Fund, the Devon County Agricultural Association (DCAA) and Stephens Scown.
Despite the current rock-bottom prices for produce in most agriculture sectors, and the uncertainty being generated by the EU referendum, both the number and quality of entries is as high as ever.
“It really is encouraging to see how Devon farmers of all ages, in all sectors and of both genders are rising to the challenge of running a profitable farm business in a difficult economic environment”, said Mary Quicke MBE, DCAA Chairman of Council.
“We started these awards to highlight excellence and all of the short-listed entries have that in spades. But the other quality that comes through to me from the short-list is resilience, and that is just as important at times like these. There are examples here of innovation, good business practice and sheer hard work which just about every farmer in Devon can learn something from.”
Phil Reed, Head of Rural at Stephens Scown, added: “The quality of the entries this year is testament once again to the strength and vitality of farming in Devon. Times may be challenging for many in the sector, but farmers are finding ways to renew their businesses and weather the storm.
“There may be plenty of uncertainty around, not least with a Brexit vote looming, but one thing is certain – the awards evening in May will be quite an occasion when the great qualities of our farming industry in Devon will be proudly on show.”
For Ian Bell, Chief Executive of the Addington Fund, which provides homes for farming families forced out of the industry, it is the human stories behind the entries which are the most inspiring.
“There are young couples making a go of it on small farms by doing something different, like selling edible flowers via the internet, or specialising in quail production; there are dairy farmers using pasture-based systems to produce top quality milk at low cost; we’ve got a sheep farmer creating opportunities for new entrants through breeding flock replacements for him; and we have even got a dairy farmer whose marriage broke down because of the pressures of farm-work, but who has since reorganised his business so successfully that he’s re-married his wife!
“Judging the farms which were nominated for the awards has been a great pleasure and a huge eye-opener. It re-affirms one’s faith in the human spirit to see how these farming families are not just surviving but prospering, in a very difficult climate.
“Sorting out a final winner in each category is going to be incredibly difficult, because I can honestly say that every farm on the short-list is good enough to win an award.”
The winners of the Devon Farm Business Awards, including Devon’s Farmer of the Year, will be announced at a gala dinner on the eve of the Devon County Show on May 18.