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Student team success at the Institute of Agricultural Management Farmplanner contest

Posted 14 May

"It was great to be part of the team that won the competition and to know that our hard work was recognised by the judges. It was a very proud moment knowing you have won a competition while representing the university."

A team of Harper Adams University final-year students have won the annual Institute of Agricultural Management Farmplanner contest.

The competition, which is in its 27th year, is open to all agriculture colleges and universities across the country and challenges teams of students to tackle real life problems facing a significant farming business. The teams this year came from Bishops Burton, Hadlow, Hartpury, Harper Adams, Newcastle, Nottingham and Riseholme.

This year’s host business was the Exton Park, a 1,286-hectare estate which has a suckler herd, 900 hectares of arable enterprises and ancient woodland. Students were required to advise the estate management team on a range of questions including future staffing arrangements, how to develop redundant buildings, opportunities for diversification in woodland as well as the future cropping and livestock systems.

The Harper Adams team members were BSc (Hons) Agriculture students Alex Williams, Nicholas Hill, Annie Metcalfe, Frances Thomas and Hugo Dwerryhouse and BSc (Hons) Agriculture with Farm Business Management student Hannah Proctor.

On how it felt to win, Alex, 23, from Torpoint, Cornwall, said: “It was great to be part of the team that won the competition and to know that our hard work was recognised by the judges. It was a very proud moment knowing you have won a competition while representing the university, plus we get a mention in the Farmers Weekly!”

Nicholas, 22, from Tavistock, Devon, said: “We started by undertaking a full business appraisal and from there could identify areas that could be improved.

“From here a lot of research and number crunching was carried out to find enterprises which would fit into the estate and meet the criteria set out by the estate owner. Fortunately for us the case studies, facilities and location allowed us to explore a number of options.”

Annie, 22, from Hay-On-Wye, Herefordshire, said: “Some of the key recommendations we put forward were: planting miscanthus as a means to reduce labour requirement and concentrate on improving combinable crops; trial soya as a break crop to replace OSR; and replace the low input suckler heard with a heard of red deer.”

“We also saw opportunities for diversification; a funeral barrow was identified as an option which fits into the traditional ethos of the estate and due to the popularity of the area and the number of walkers a café and woodland adventure park were also proposed,” added Hannah, 22, from Hexham Northumberland.

“Tony Asson and Wyn Morgan, our farm business lecturers, have provided great support throughout our time at Harper,” said Frances, 22, from Brecon, Powys. “We had undertaken one of our previous business assignments based on a real farm a few miles away from Harper, which set us up really well for this competition. To complete the task, we were also required us to draw on knowledge from all aspects of the agricultural degree from animal and crop production to people management to provide recommendations on the farm going forward.”

Hugo, 22, from Tadley, Hampshire, explained how the team tackled the challenges presented by social distancing and lockdown: “It was a challenge to adapt to the new circumstances. We were fortunate to get most of the report done before we had to social distance.

“However, we still had to do a final draft and produce a presentation. Initially not being able to meet with the team and the uncertainties surrounding our studies knocked motivation and the report got set aside for a couple of weeks. When we had started to settle down in isolation and got on top of workload, we soon moved our focus back to preparing for the competition.

“Through the use of Zoom and Microsoft Teams we were able to plan, prepare and practise our presentation. Due to the virus, the competition had to be moved online and we did our final presentation over Zoom.

“Although it was a new and different experience for us all we are in no doubt virtual working will be a thing of the future, so it was good to get some practice at it now.”

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