Tiverton family farm scoops Devon Farmer of the Year award
22nd May 2015
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The awards, organised by the Addington Fund, the Devon County Agricultural Association and Stephens Scown Solicitors, were presented by their respective sponsors, at the Devon County Showground, with Mole Valley Farmers’ Chairman, Graeme Cock, doing the honours for Farmer of the Year.

There are nine categories in all, including, new for this year, Young Entrepreneur, with the ultimate accolade of Devon Farmer of the Year being selected from among the category winners.

John and Clare Clapp were named Best Commercial Farmers, sponsored by Francis Clark, for the way in which they have transformed a fairly traditional beef and arable farm into a thriving modern business, helping to create over 100 jobs in the process.  They bought what was then a 275 acre farm from John’s parents in 2002, and immediately set about converting redundant farm buildings into industrial units. The Hartnoll Business Centre, as the complex has since become, currently has 25 tenants employing a total of 100 people.

The other key element in their success has been renewable energy.  After installing 30kW of roof-mounted solar-panelling on the industrial estate in 2012, they have since branched out into anaerobic digestion, with their own AD plant on the farm, and through growing some 3,000 acres of maize on a contract basis, in partnership with another local farmer, to supply other AD plants in the area.

Nor has the core farming business been neglected, to the extent that they now grow cereals and maize and rear beef cattle on almost 800 acres.

It was a special evening as well for the Fowler family of Boode Farm, Braunton,  as they celebrated a double success, with Gavin Fowler being named as Devon’s Dairy Farmer of the Year, sponsored by Stephens Scown,  and his father Ranald picking up the Lifetime Achievement award for his transformative work as Chairman for many years of the co-operative Mole Valley Farmers.

Gavin Fowler’s 280 milkers are not your usual black and white Holstein Friesians.  Instead, he has cross-bred his Friesians with Montbeliarde and Swedish Red cattle, to produce tough, hardy cattle, with plenty of hybrid vigour, capable of grazing outdoors for most of the year.  The farm is in a dry part of Devon, with only 30 inches of rain a year, so the herd is block-calved in the autumn, rather than the spring, allowing maximum use to be made of grazed grass.

Judge John Berry was hugely impressed by the standard of husbandry, the way Gavin Fowler has adapted his system to the constraints of the farm and by the quality of the cattle.

“Gavin is clearly a very go ahead farmer, with an approach to dairying which is quite different to what I have seen in the past.  The standard of husbandry was very high, and adapted to make things as easy as possible to run, making this a most profitable enterprise”.

Devon’s Farming Champion, sponsored by the NFU, is John Lee OBE FRAgS, from Crediton, who recently stood down as Chairman of the DCAA, and who his successor, Mary Quicke described as “the linchpin of farming in Devon”.

Besides his work for the DCAA, John was active at the highest level of EU agricultural politics for many years as Chairman of CEJA, the hugely influential EU young farmers’ organisation, and was Chairman of Governors at Bicton College for 10 years.  He has been a key player in the various initiatives which have been launched to revitalise Devon farming in the wake of the 2001 Foot and Mouth disaster, chairing both the South West Rural and Agricultural Development Programme (SWARD) and the Rural Enterprise Gateway (REG).  In 2012, he was awarded the OBE for services to farming and the rural economy.

“His wise counsel, clear vision of the future and ability to chair a meeting with great clarity, together with his hard work, dedication and ability to connect with a wide range of people has made him hugely influential - the go-to person for farming in Devon”, said Mary Quicke, in paying tribute to his achievements.

This is the first time that the CAAV John Neason Award for Farm Diversification has been incorporated in the Devon Farm Business Awards, and the judges were hugely impressed by what they said were the “good quality, interesting and entrepreneurial entries”.

The winner is John Coles, who has been processing his own livestock through an on-farm abattoir at East Hill, Ottery St. Mary since the 1980s.  Over the years, redundant farm buildings have been converted for a cutting room and bacon curing facility, a farm shop was built, with the added attraction of soft fruit, and, most recently, in 2011, a café was opened on the farm.

All of which means that John Coles can justifiably claim to be the only farmer in Devon not only to rear, slaughter, process and retail his own animals, but even to cook and serve them in his own restaurant. 

It was this all-encompassing farm to fork approach that most impressed the judges. “No one else in the entire food chain gets a chance to take profits away from this farm!”, they commented.

Devon’s Woman Farmer of the Year, sponsored by Nat West, is Caroline Trude, already well-known for her work as the current Chairman of the Devon Federation of Young Farmers’ Clubs.  She still works on the family dairy and beef farm at Clyst Hydon in East Devon when time permits, although her full-time job is as an administrator for the Vale Veterinary Group, where she has been helping to implement the South West Healthy Livestock Initiative.  She is a great ambassador for modern farming, both in her home county of Devon and internationally, having represented the UK at the first World Youth Agricultural Summit in Calgary, Canada in 2013. 

One of the best supported categories was Best Young Farmer, sponsored by Savills, with the judges eventually picking out Jack Elliott, of Hunshaw Farm, Little Torrington.  Jack came home to work on the family dairy farm in 2010 and has been the prime mover in an ambitious expansion plan which will see cow numbers increase from 180 to 400, with a new milking parlour and cubicle buildings.

This has inevitably involved complex and delicate negotiations over issues such as finance, planning and environmental management, with the judges commending Jack for his mature, determined and professional approach.

Right across the board, one of the most striking aspects of the awards’ short-list was the number of younger farmers it included.  In fact, one of the short-listed Young Farmer nominees, Lewis Steer of Twig Farm, Chudleigh, so impressed the judges that they created a new category - Best Young Entrepreneur - to recognise his achievements.  Still only 21, Lewis divides his time between his studies at the Royal Agricultural University at Cirencester, and the family farm near Chudleigh, where he keeps his own small flock of sheep.  However, it is the Lily Warne Wool business - named after his great-great-great grandmother - which he is developing to add value to wool through imaginative marketing via the internet which caught the judges’ eye.   

The joint organisers were delighted with how the evening went, warmly thanking the sponsors who had made it possible, and paying tribute to the winners, with the DCAA’s Chief Executive, Richard Maunder, calling them the “crème de la crème of Devon farming”, the Addington Fund’s Ian Bell saying how difficult it had been to pick out the winners, so high had been the overall standard of entries, and Stephens Scown’s Phil Reed adding that this year’s competition had shown that the future of farming in Devon was in skilled and entrepreneurial hands.

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