County farmers win gold at British Farming Awards
By David Wood | 27th October 2023
A war veteran from Gloucestershire who suffered PTSD has picked up a gold award at the British Farming Awards.
Alex Crawley, who runs his business Grazing Management with his wife Emily at St Briavels in the Forest of Dean, won the New Entrants Award: Against the Odds.
And another Gloucestershire farmer, Ed Horton, was honoured with gold as the Arable Farmer of the Year.
The awards, which took place at the Vox, Birmingham, were attended by more than 800 farmers and industry professionals from across the UK.
Alex proudly served with the Armed Forces in Afghanistan. Following his diagnosis with posttraumatic stress disorder in 2017, he took a voluntary placement working with dairy cattle, which he said helped 'soothe' his PTSD.
When Alex won a Clyde-Higgs scholarship via the Royal Agricultural University, Cirencester, it was a dream come true. His studies culminated in working numerous jobs including calf rearing, dairy, sheep, beef and harvest work. His drive and determination enabled him to gain experience and learn new skills.
After being awarded the Haygarth medal for graduating as a top student on the course, Alex soon got a job working on a large-scale beef and sheep farm.
His idea to formulate a business - Grazing Management - was just a pipe dream, but it did give him recognition when he won the National ADAS Pinnacle Awards for farm student business plan of the year.
With hope, tenacity and forward thinking, Alex managed to secure 2.4 hectares (six acres) of rough pasture and launched Grazing Management in 2020. He credits the strength and valour of his wife, Emily, in building the business's ethos which is centered on teamwork and togetherness.
One of Alex's main focuses has been to take on contract conservation grazing to restore wildflower meadows, peatlands and heathlands. He takes on areas which are no longer commercially farmed and aims to bring them back to grazing.
Alex said: "With a military background, I bring planning, operational delivery and risk management skills. I am also not afraid of a bit of hard graft and bad weather.
The couple said they were "genuinely blown away" to receive the award and weren't expecting it.
"Innovation in the farming industry is important and we are incredibly proud to farm in a regenerative way that is respectful of the environment and balancing food production."
The judges said Alex and Emily had a "Forward thinking business model with an environmental focus. Passionate, warm people. Very good profitability."
Another gold medallist from Gloucestershire was Ed Horton of Poulton Fields Farm, S.S. Horton and Sons, who won the Arable Farmer of the Year.
Ed runs a hybrid system based upon amalgamating ideas from the organic sector and traditional farming methods to create a low-input but high gross margin system.
Cover crops and direct drilling are utilised as a way of improving soil structure and organic matter levels to reduce erosion and nitrate leaching. A cover crop is included within the rotation any time a field is not growing a cash crop.
Cover crops are terminated by sheep rather than chemicals, allowing Ed to add value to the crop by grazing and aiding a larger flock of sheep on-farm.
Ed said: "Every winter-sown cereal crop, including wheat, barley, oats, spelt, rye and triticale, all gets grazed hard by mobs of lambs in early spring to remove latent leaf infections.
"As well as removing the need for fungicides, this also acts as a growth regulator, causing plants to root deeper and tiller more prolifically."
The rotation has been widened to include 18 different combinable crops to enable the risk to be spread and allow different options to culturally control weeds before planting.
After 10 years of Higher Level Stewardship, the farm is seeing real results in the number of farmland birds, such as bullfinches, golden plovers, lapwing, English partridges, as well as insect diversity and improved water quality.
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