For nearly four decades Neal Sands has worked tirelessly to build up Sands Agricultural Machinery into a multi-award winning and leading manufacturer of crop sprayers.

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And the company’s achievements were hailed at the 23rd EDP Business Awards last Thursday as it was named the Barclays Business of the Year.

The prestigious ‘winner of winners’ award was the highlight of the awards night, which saw 10 businesses honoured for their achievements and a special presentation of the Denise Anderson Award to Peter Wilson, chief executive of Norwich Theatre Royal.

Based at Stalham for the last 37 years, Sands Agricultural Machinery (SAM) caught the eye of judges with its strong family heritage, and its very active new product development to incorporate latest satellite precision farming technology.

Its familiar Vison self-propelled sprayers range is a common sight on the region’s farms, and 15pc of production is exported to New Zealand, Eastern Europe and Scandinavia.

The factory employs more than 50 people and has manufactured 51 machines in the last 12 months.

Turnover was £8m last year and the business has a full order book with delivery now into the middle of next year, while the excellence of the product has been recognised by the machinery industry.

The company has been awarded four Royal Agricultural Society Silver Medals, a British Design Council Award and the prestigious Sir Rowland Burke Trophy.

Receiving the award, Mr Sands paid tribute to staff at the Stalham factory for helping to contribute to the success of the business.

“I think it is the quality of our British-made product which made us stand out to the judges,” he said. “I’m very proud, but couldn’t do it by myself, so I owe this to my loyal employees.”

Matthew Peek, corporate director of award sponsors Barclays East Anglia, said judges had looked at six of the 30 finalists when deciding which would be the winning business, while two of them – Brandbank, whose chief executive Rob Tarrant, won the Director of the Year award, and Busseys of Norwich, a finalist in the Online Performance Award – were both highly commended.

“It has been my privilege to spend time with six businesses as part of the judging of this final category – Business of the Year,” Mr Peek said.

“I was looking for a company that has been bold enough to buck the trend in difficult trading conditions, invest in people, innovate through product, increase their footprint and above all, be true ambassadors of these awards and our region. All six showed many of these attributes and clearly have exciting times ahead – well done!”

Mr Peek said SAM was a Norfolk business with a presence across the globe. “With a culture of how it can do things differently to help its customers and an order book for 12 months hence and over 50pc market share in their field, Sands Agricultural Machinery is a great advertisement for quality manufacturing right here in Norfolk.”

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