The winner of this award, chosen from the finalists in the other Awards categories, is the farmer judged to have made the most positive impact on the wider environment and the sustainability of their farming activities.
That could involve improving soil quality, reducing the negative effects of pesticides, increasing biodiversity, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, enhancing water management or any other environmental improvements.
See also: Farmers Weekly Awards: 2022 shortlist announced
The judges considered the scale of each finalist’s environmental ambitions, and the degree of innovation entailed.
They also looked at how ideas have been embedded into farm management practices, the impact of these actions, and what is being done to measure and monitor results.
© Richard Stanton
Habitat management and biodiversity are at the heart of everything Ian does on his organic 280ha beef and arable farm.
Ian inherited the farm when he was 18 years old and continued to run it as a fairly intensive arable enterprise for 25 years.
Then, in 2005, two things happened to change that: Higher Level Stewardship was introduced, and his grain dryer burned down. It was the trigger he needed to follow a more environmentally friendly style of farming.
Farmers can play a part in addressing the biodiversity crisis and be commercially viable, believes Ian. With species-rich wildflower meadows, floristically enhanced margins, wild bird seed areas and woodland, he is certainly proving that.
The farm is now a haven for wildlife that Ian, a passionate wildlife photographer, likes to capture on camera.
The farm is already at net-zero, and may well be a net sequestrator. Water leaving the farm is tested and contains little or no nitrates, phosphates, chemicals or soil particles.
As Ian puts it, “you have to be the change you want to see in the world”, and he now wants to share that message with a wider audience.
A multipurpose building, to be called The Sainfoin Centre, is going up in the farmyard. It will be used to host visits and groups to share the farm’s story and principles.
As well as bringing school and university groups to the farm, Ian hopes to engage with established farmers to help them start on a journey towards agroecological farming.
What the judges say:
“Ian describes himself as a habitat manager and his passion for the environment and biodiversity was clear. He hasn’t relegated it to the margins, or areas of poorer land – it’s very much front and centre of his farming business.”
© Jim Varney
For North Yorkshire beef and arable farmer Angus Gowthorpe, soil health and biodiversity are at the very heart of crop production.
He began his regenerative agricultural journey eight years ago, and now Mr Gowthorpe’s no-till system includes extensive cover crops as part of an extended and diversified rotation.
Plant growth regulators and insecticides were eradicated four years ago, and he can now confidently grow crops without synthetic fungicides.
Instead, the health of his soils and crops is fuelled by a combination of home-brewed microbial and fungal mixes, saving him more than £90/ha a year on a typical winter wheat field.
Nitrogen rates have been cut by two-thirds through the use of foliar nitrogen feed, which offers four times greater efficiency over granular nitrogen.
Thanks to his Saler suckler herd, muck is applied across the whole rotation to improve organic matter levels, eliminating the need for purchased P and K.
A shift to herbal ley mixes for his mob-grazed beef herd has further improved biodiversity levels and eliminated artificial fertilisers on forage ground.
He prides himself in promoting farm biodiversity through the Mid-Tier Countryside Stewardship scheme, which has seen him establish an abundance of flower margins, grass margins and bird food mixes.
Mr Gowthorpe is currently part of an Innovative Farmers field lab looking at the role of flower margins in boosting the numbers of beneficial insects.
He also helped set up the Green Farm Collective, a collaboration of six farmers which plans to add value to farm businesses that are following regenerative agricultural methods.
What the judges say:
“The passion and attention to detail Angus has to improving the sustainability of his soils is incredible and the real driver of his farming practices. The results were obvious to see and the reduction in input costs impressive- all while maintaining crop yields”
© Jim Varney
Becoming carbon-neutral within the next five years is Graham Potter’s vision, and he has already taken massive steps towards this goal on his North Yorkshire arable farm.
He has slashed fuel use and nitrogen fertiliser inputs, adopted renewable energy, improved soil health and created wildlife habitats.
However, it is his influence off-farm that impresses most, encouraging neighbouring farmers to improve their soil and water health.
Graham recalls the turning point at the start of his journey, when he says his soils were “dead” and something needed to happen. His work since then has raised soil organic matters to an average 5.6%.
Since adopting direct drilling and cover crops, water run-off is now clear, with no nitrates, and his “Rolls-Royce” sprayer shed treats washings.
He is one of the pioneering farmers growing net-zero barley for Heineken, and having healthy soils has enabled him to slash nitrogen fertiliser rates – first wheats now receive just 188kg/ha, and he is looking to cut rates further.
To promote insects, Graham has established beetle banks along with 6m field strips and a pond as part of his stewardship agreement.
He has cut his carbon emissions by installing 40KW solar panels, which provide all electricity requirements during the day.
Being a host farmer in the Sustainable Landscapes initiative, Graham is demonstrating practical measures for improving soil and water health, and neighbouring farmers are now adopting measures such as cover cropping.
Graham’s carbon measures will soon start to pay, having entered 200ha into the Carbon Bank with a 10-year agreement under its carbon capture scheme.
What the judges say:
“Graham shows huge passion for improving soil health and is making good progress on his carbon journey. He is focused on improving water quality and has a successful partnership with Yorkshire Water and Heineken.”
The Farmers Weekly 2022 Environmental Champion of the Year is sponsored by Woodland Trust.
“The Woodland Trust has been working with farmers throughout its 50-year history and there has never been a more important time to come together. We are proud to celebrate farmers who champion the environment in their work.”
Darren Moorcroft, chief executive, Woodland Trust
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