Meeting the needs of the farming industry in a new policy era was a key theme in the 2020 Farmers Club Pinnacle Awards which saw the nation’s top farm business management students fight for top honours.

Sponsored by the Cave Foundation and run with consultancy firm ADAS, this prestigious competition drew entries from colleges and universities across the United Kingdom.  Covid may have delayed the judging process until Spring 2021 but the finalists overcame the additional lockdown challenge to present exceptionally strong business projects.

The winner of the competition was Henry Scholefield from the University of Nottingham’s Sutton Bonnington Campus, with Roseanna Linkens of Harper Adams University placed second and Jonathan Bryer of University Centre Somerset’s Bridgwater & Taunton College placed third.

“This year’s three finalists were probably amongst the best we’ve ever had.”
Prof Bill McKelvey, Chair of Judges

The competition aims to champion realistic, real-life projects, and people who are capable of driving rural businesses forwards, noted Prof William McKelvey OBE, chair of the judging panel, which also included ADAS principal business consultant Tony Turner and Farmers Club Journal Editor Charles Abel.

Key criteria for the awards are precise project reports, with a succinct explanation of the business case, backed by robust financial analysis, recognising downsides and risks as well as upsides. Strong problem-solving abilities, good presentation skills, agile thinking, and an ability to stand up for ideas under scrutiny are also important.

“Now is probably the most exciting time for business management, consultancy and strategic thinking since at least the 1980s.”
Tony Turner, ADAS.

Competitive entries

In a keenly contested competition, ADAS drew up a shortlist of eight entries from the 16 entries received. Prof McKelvey commended all the entries received: “I know the level of dedication and expertise required to put forward a project, particularly this past year with all the additional difficulties created by the coronavirus lockdown.”

Finalists were due to be interviewed in London last April, but the coronavirus lockdown regulations meant face to face interviews became impossible. Instead, three candidates were selected from a shortlist of eight, based on written submissions, who were interviewed remotely earlier this Spring.

“The judges were hugely impressed by the vision, content and entrepreneurship of entries and wish all finalists every success in their future careers,” Prof McKelvey noted.

As farming faces major changes the judges felt a strong focus on practical core farming was important. “Diversification has its role, but when core business viability is threatened it isn’t always enough. Looking at improving technical ability, as a driver for the future, needs prioritising,” commented Mr Turner. Being able to show knowledge of the wider industry, a capacity for problem solving and an understanding of how projects can be worked up at scale is very important.

Finalist reports can be found at:


Henry Scholefield, University of Nottingham, Sutton Bonnington Campus

Pinnacle Gold, Nickerson Cup, £2000

Tendering for a 5-year Farm Business Tenancy on a 209ha sand-land unit in an NVZ in North Nottinghamshire isn’t for the faint-hearted, especially with just £20,000 personal finance. The fully-costed, very practical proposal included an expanded 8-year arable/roots rotation, DIY horse livery, a new contract grain storage operation and new all-outdoor contract heifer rearing using grass leys under-sown into maize, plus fodder beet and cover crops. Mid-tier Countryside Stewardship would improve natural capital. Mainly used machinery and a new 130hp John Deere 6130R were all priced.

Rosa Linkens, Harper Adams University

Pinnacle Silver, £1000

Jumping on the fast-growing wave of insect-based protein for human consumption (entomophagy) demanded rigorous market analysis and technical research. A small-batch system using existing farm buildings and labour would produce crickets, for grinding into cricket flour, as an environmentally-friendly alternative to whey protein for fitness enthusiasts.

Supplying food manufacturers with such non-meat, low GHG, feed- and water-efficient protein was a further option.

Jonathan Bryer, Bridgwater & Taunton College, Cannington Campus

Pinnacle Bronze, £600

An investment appraisal for a robot milking enterprise on a 247ha Somerset dairy farm looked at adding 120 new milkers, with detailed plans for new buildings, storage for extra silage and slurry, NVZ compliance and the scope to reduce labour requirements.

Full costings were provided and practical implications considered, including cow training, health and welfare, technician support, milk yield, price sensitivity and benefit to student education.

Runners up

All finalists receive one-year free Club membership

Erin Boyle, SRUC Ayr
‘Good to Ewe’ Scottish sheep milk soap will be promoted as a unique, enviro-friendly premium cosmetic to benefit all skin types. On-farm production using lye for saponification would create a distinctive handcrafted product for local sales, either ‘original’ or with added oils. Market research was backed by PEST, SWOT and Porter’s Five Forces analysis to address competitive threats.

Brogan Devlin, SRUC Ayr
The Happy Panda Company farm diversification aims to grow 1ha of bamboo on a free draining sandy loam farm in suitably mild south-west Scotland to produce eco-friendly locally-sourced drinking straws, pens and garden canes. An existing building would process yields of almost 3t/ha of 10-14mm canes by year three. Market research showed good promotion would be needed.

Chloe Michie, SRUC Aberdeen 
Switching a mixed organic farm near Inverurie from a suckler herd and fat lamb system to producing 160 six-month in-calf organic breeding heifers would improve profits and work/life balance. Using EBVs to select bulls for easy calving and condition monitoring throughout pregnancy would be crucial. SWOT analysis, market research, sensitivity and other options were considered.

Oliver Pirie, SRUC Aberdeen 
Two options were considered to help service debt, lift profits and reduce labour demands on a mixed organic farm. Solar panels to generate saleable renewable energy looked attractive, but faced planning hurdles. Financial scrutiny, with sensitivity analysis, showed a sheep enterprise which rents summer grazing should be replaced with an expanded area of organic feed barley.

Frances Thomas, Harper Adams University 
A diversification plan for a farm in the Brecon Beacons National Park used market research to focus upon a green couples-only staycation plan, with two bespoke off-grid geodomes providing an eco-friendly back-to-nature. ‘Off the Beacon Track’ includes a wood-fired hot-tub and electric buggy for £125 per night, with 65% peak season occupancy, and sensitivity analysis to show viability.