Posted 12 May 2014
"Her entry was professional – it was a practical, well-presented piece of work that captured both Trevor’s physical resources on the farm and himself as the human resource."
A final year Harper Adams University student has scooped a Pinnacle Award for Excellence in Business Management, after coming up with a diversification idea tailored not just to the farm in question, but also to the man running it.
Beth Duchesne, 21, from Bury St. Edmunds, brought home the bronze award from last week’s Pinnacle Awards final at the Farmers Club in London. Students are entered into the awards on the recommendation of their college or university, after completing a project deemed good enough to compete against entries from throughout the UK.
Lecturer Tony Asson set students on the Rural Business Opportunities module the task of researching, planning and presenting a business idea for Trevor Wheeler’s Brynmawr Farm, in the South Shropshire Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Beth’s project was deemed one of the best and put forward as a Pinnacle Awards contender.
“I proposed a small-scale exotic mushroom enterprise. It would be a low-input business, based in a 40ft container,” said Beth, who scooped a £600 prize for herself plus £300 for the university. “I have no experience of mushroom farming myself but when I read about it while researching the project, it really struck me as something that would suit the farm and the farmer. Brynmawr is farmed with an environmental ethos. It turned organic in 2001 and there has already been some diversification – it is a care farm and has a straw bale education building and an eco holiday cottage. It’s all very environmentally focussed
“The mushrooms are grown in a 40-foot insulated, temperature regulated container, split into two for the two different phases in mushroom production. You have to start new batches every few months. It is labour extensive, requiring only 2-3 hours’ man-power each day, but in that time it requires a lot of attention to detail to make sure the conditions are correct. I thought that would suit Mr Wheeler, as he is very hands-on and likes attention to detail.”
“On the judging day, the eight finalists were interviewed in the morning. Then we all did a 10-minute presentation in front of family, friends, lecturers and everyone else competing. I was very nervous for that, but it went well. The judges took some time to consider the entries and did the prize presentation before an evening meal. It was a long day, but a good day! I’m very pleased to have had my work recognised in this way.”
Lecturer Tony Asson joined Beth in London and was impressed with her performance on the day: “She did a really good job. Her entry was professional – it was a practical, well-presented piece of work that captured both Trevor’s physical resources on the farm and himself as the human resource.
“In a lot of these projects, students consider the land, the animals, the farm, but fail to consider the human resource. Implementation is key to making a new enterprise work, so you need to be sure the farmer has got what it takes to make it happen.”
After completing her BSc (Hons) Agriculture with Farm Business Management degree this summer, Beth plans spend some time in Canada, experiencing farming systems over there as well as travelling for pleasure. Longer term, she aspires to become an advisor in the crop production sector.