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In 2022, Trowers & Hamlins sponsored the Farm Diversification category of Devon Farm Business Awards. Nicola Janus-Harris, Partner and Head of Agriculture and Rural Estates at Trowers, had the privilege of acting as a judge in the process, visiting the shortlisted nominees and agreeing on the winning finalist.

With the nomination window for the 2023 awards now open, we thought it would be a good time to catch up with last year's winner, Jerry Sanders-Carr, to find out more about his farm business near Exeter, and how winning the award has impacted him. 

What's your background in farming?

I am a 5th generation farmer. After attending university and gaining a degree in Agriculture and Management I then worked at large farming businesses in Kenya and America, before returning to the UK which saw me leave agriculture for a while working in The City and for various international finance institutions.

After 20 plus years sat in an office and travelling a lot, I decided I wanted a better quality of life. So, we moved back to Devon and I worked alongside my father allowing him to properly retire from the farm.

It's certainly the best move I have made for my mental wellbeing and has given the kids space to grow up and appreciate the countryside.

How have you placed your own mark on the farm?

The farm has always been a true Devon mixed farm, but mum and dad started to branch out some years ago with converting redundant barns to rental dwellings and starting a small caravan site.

Dad had also taken livestock away from the farm as he got older. When I came back I wanted to reintroduce livestock into the mix and move more along the lines of regenerative farming, not that it was called that at the time. I fundamentally believe mixed farming is right for our area and our soils. Along with bringing sheep and cattle back, I have moved away from plough based arable operations to direct drilling crops (now in the 14th year of doing so). 

Having livestock is improving our soil and allows for a more diverse income stream. It also made me realise that direct marketing of my lamb and beef put more control back in my hands rather than rely on markets.

The farming operation has to be able to stand on its own feet, but I have looked at diversification to increase the farms profitability. So alongside direct meat sales, I started a caravan storage business, and more recently converted a farmhouse into a high-end holiday let.

I have also worked hard to develop a following for my breeding stock and now am the largest seller of breeding rams and ewes of the variety in the southwest.

What do you consider to be most important in running your farm?

Building for the future and reducing risk are key, but also working in such a way that improves the soil and farmland environment. Soil is key to the farm; we are still learning about how it works and have some way to go yet. It is a slow process, but I am already seeing improvements.

I am very lucky to say my job is also my hobby, or as my wife sometimes says, my passion. I don’t look at it like I am going to work. I genuinely enjoy every day even with the challenges it can throw at you at times, though don’t get me started on the weather! I will be very happy if I leave the farm in a better state than when I took it over, and that is not saying Dad did not do the same, he certainly did.

I look around at other farmers striving to do the same. Social media is fantastic at giving an insight and inspiration in how others manage their farms.

What challenges and opportunities are next for your farming business?

Without a doubt the changes ongoing to farm business support from the government is the biggest challenge to all farms. The loss of BPS and the very confused start to Environmental Land Management and Sustainable Farming Incentive are making business decisions for the future a challenge. I am still unsure of the government's motivation behind the new schemes and fear their approach to food security is flawed. 

But I am still positive about farming and looking to invest in the pure farming part of the business further. Some of the new technology coming to the market is very exciting and I hope to take another step change to a true low disturbance direct drill in the next 12 months. I am also expanding my use of precision grazing techniques to hopefully reduce my fertiliser and feed bills.

There are also further diversification opportunities I want to explore, one already in the pipeline is development of a secure dog walking field, as we are close to Exeter. The main challenge is finding the time to do all this!

The Devon Farm Business Awards: What has winning meant to you, and what advice would you give to any future nominees?

It was great to get the recognition and feedback about how the farm has developed and meeting so many people at the awards. Winning was just the bonus. Getting through to the final three was great but winning was totally unexpected.

If you are nominated, my advice would be to embrace the opportunity: sit down before the judges arrive on farm to really think why you could win the category you are nominated in. Use the opportunity to do a review of the business and take a moment to look at the changes you have made and the challenges you have overcome. Who knows, it may even spark a new idea in your mind.

Trowers & Hamlins are proud to sponsor the Devon Farm Business Awards once again. The nomination window for the 2023 awards is open, closing on 28th February. The final awards ceremony takes place at Devon County Showground on Wednesday 17th May.

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