Norfolk poultry producers rule the roost in national farming awards
Specialist Norfolk chicken and turkey producers Mark Gorton and David Garner have won the Poultry Farmer of the Year Award at London's Grosvenor House Hotel.
For the second year in a row, the Farmers Weekly Award has been won by a Norfolk business.
Mr Gorton and Mr Garner started their Traditional Norfolk Poultry enterprise at Shropham, near Attleborough, from nothing.
From 12 bronze turkeys for Christmas in 1987 to a business now processing 50,000 chickens a week, it has come a long way in 25 years.
They got a break-through in the mid 1990s when Tesco wanted organic chickens and about that time, Asda also wanted home-produced chicken.
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Now, TNP has just launched a range of Norfolk Black Chickens in an exclusive arrangement with Sainsbury's. They run 35 farms in Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire and have grown the business to include about 100 staff.
Alongside the Norfolk Black Turkeys, they've spent about three years developing the new breed of free-range Norfolk Black Chickens, as the EDP reported in last week's Farm & Country.
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One of the award's judges was last year's winner, table chicken producer Nigel Joice, of Uphouse Farm, South Raynham, near Fakenham.
Former Defra food and farming minister Sir Jim Paice was named NFU farming champion of the year. The MP for south-east Cambridgeshire was given the award for his outstanding commitment to the agricultural industry in the past 12 months.
NFU President Peter Kendall said: 'I am delighted for Jim to receive this award. He has taken farming to the heart of government and helped achieve many key policies and agreements, which has put farmers in a better place in the future.'
The farmer of the year was Guy Poskitt, of Kellington, East Yorkshire. Three sugar beet growers were finalists in the arable farmer of the year category, which included two Norfolk farmers.
Seed potato grower Tony Bambridge, of Park Farm, Blickling, near Aylsham, won a Nuffield Scholarship in 1987 to study the European potato industry. He saw a gap in the market and started a seed potato business at Wood Farm, Marsham. It runs alongside an arable operation with 19 staff and some 3,000 acres with crops including horseradish.
Mr Bambridge, who won the 2011 Potato Industry Award, is also chairman of the country's largest potato business, Greenvale AP. He grows 140 hectares of seed, renting blocks of clean land, ideal for seed production, from local farmers.
Breckland farmer William Gribbon, of Snailspit Farm, near Swaffham, who manages 5,500 acres for Heygate Farms, launched a new added-value potato brand, Norfolk Peer. It was also a great success at last's Wayland Show, when it won the award for best promotional display.
But the biggest success in adding value is the launch of the premium-branded product Norfolk Peer new potatoes, with gold lettering on a black background.
The variety consistently topped taste tests. 'Yields are lower at 12t/acre compared with 25-26t/acre for processors such as Roosters,' he said. He supplies 22 local Asda stores and his goal is to increase the area to 240ha and launch new lines, the next being Norfolk Bakers.
A finalist in the Farm Contractor of the Year, Oliver and Hannah Arnold, of Spring Farm, Felthorpe, manage and harvest more than 2,500ha of maize for biogas. They employ 20 full-time staff to service the 300 core customers.
Farmworker of the Year, Phil Baynes has been employed at Wilbraham Farms, near Cambridge, for the past 24 years. He works with farm manager Chris Ascroft, who has 1,650 acres (670ha) of wheat, malting barley and sugar beet.
Other regional finalists included Andrew Francis, of the Elveden Estate, who has helped to develop a food and farming brand around the 9,100 hectare (22,500-acre) estate.
Based on the Norfolk border, the estate employs up to 40 people at peak times on the farm business.
The creation of Elveden brands has seen the estate become a destination for tourists and food lovers. It has led to employment for 95 local people, with casual staff at peak times.