Over 100 lecturers and students from eight colleges descended on the Exton Estate near Oakham at the start of this year’s Farmplanner Competition sponsored by Farmers Weekly, Farmplan, Gasson Associates, Duncan and Toplis and ADM.
Now in its 27th year, the Farmplanner competition is open to all agricultural colleges across the country and challenges groups of students to tackle real life problems facing a significant farming business.
This year’s host business, the 1286 hectare Exton Estate comprising a suckler herd, 900ha of arable enterprises and ancient woodland, provides some complex challenges for the teams from Bishops Burton, Hadlow, Hartpury, Harper Adams, Newcastle, Nottingham and Riseholme.
Students will be 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.
Welcoming the students, Harry Campden explained that the estate has been in the family for over 400 years and he is open to ideas for how to safeguard its future. “We face some interesting conundrums and we need to look at all the options. The students here are the future of our industry and will have to find ways to develop businesses to thrive whatever is thrown at us so I am looking forward to their ideas and creativity, backed up by sound figures.”
On a perfect spring day, the students were given a tour of the estate before having the opportunity to quiz Harry and Emma Watson from Gasson Associates about aspects of the business. Now they face the small task of producing plans for the business.
You might wonder why, with all the other time pressures they are under, final year students would put themselves up for something like this. The consensus is that they like the challenge and the element of competition. It takes them out of the comfort zone of their own college, puts them in a different situation in an unfamiliar part of the country and really stretches them.
They believe the experience will be invaluable whether they move into farm management or consultancy and they will be able to demonstrate the ability to work as a team and develop robust, and hopefully innovative plans.
Wyn Morgan, Senior Lecturer at Harper Adams says that students are keen to be involved. “All our students can volunteer for the competition and we are never short of numbers. It replaces another assignment they would do so it is different as opposed to additional work.
“We are greater believes in real life assignments and as a university see the Farmplanner as a great opportunity for our students to compete against other colleges, and if we win it is good for the University and for the students.”
Teams now have until late April to hone their proposals before the judges whittle the entries down to a final three who will present their submissions to the judging panel.