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Elveden Estate farm manager Andrew Francis wins Arable Innovator of the Year title at the 2017 British Farming Awards

Andrew Francis, farm manager at the Elveden Estate. Picture: Sonya Duncan.

Andrew Francis, farm manager at the Elveden Estate. Picture: Sonya Duncan.

Archant Norfolk Photographic © 2015

An innovative East Anglian farm manager has won a national award in recognition of his efforts to broaden industry understanding through crop trials and performance monitoring.

Andrew Francis, of the Elveden Estate near Thetford, won the Arable Innovator of the Year title at the 2017 British Farming Awards.

The farm typically conducts 20-30 trials a year across various crops, to ensure management decisions are well informed – with one trial exploring the use of organic manure now in its 16th year.

Much of the research work is open to the wider industry though the AHDB SPot farm (the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board’s Strategic Potato Farm) project.

Mr Francis won praise for reducing inorganic fertiliser use by 10pc while improving crop yields and recognising pre-stress “triggers” in his vegetable crops in order to irrigate and fertilise them more efficiently.

Work on how nitrogen usage and irrigation affects nutrient loss both through surface run off and into the subsoil has also helped him determine how best to irrigate and manage soils, both inside and outside his cropping area.

He is currently assessing the performance of different cover crop combinations within his vegetable rotation, and examining the best way to establish and destroy cover crops without the use of glyphosate, the controversial weedkiller which is subject to an EU vote on its future re-licensing next week.

The judges recognised his “clear commitment to trial work on farm and his willingness to share his findings with the rest of the industry in order to drive profitability and sustainability”.

They added: “He takes extra measures to involve all members of staff, constantly thinks outside the box and is willing to try new ideas.”

Mr Francis said: “Winning this award means a huge amount to me. But I’m not just a single person working there, and I am part of a large group effort.

“We put in so much hard work in what we do. Being an arable farmer is the reason I get out of bed every morning and we work to make products you can be proud to buy.

“Farming can be a lonely job so to win this brings together British agriculture.”

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