Suffolk: Three farmers in the running for Farmers’ Weekly farming awards

Three Suffolk farmers will be hoping for awards success at a ceremony tonight.

The Farmers Weekly Awards take place in London and includes three Suffolk finalists - David and Jill Robinson, near Woodbridge, who will be vying for the Pig Farmer of the Year title, Andy Rankin, near Woodbridge, who will battling it out to become Farm Manager of the Year, and Andrew Francis, of the Elveden Estate, near Thetford, who is hoping to scoop the Diversification Farmer of the Year award.

David and Jill Robinson run a trail-blazing eco-farm, which is an outdoor pig business with 1800 sows across two units on 200 acres of rented land - one at Sutton with 850 sows and the other at Sudbourne with 1,050 sows.

David and his wife Jill sold their home almost 20 years ago, when their daughters were young, to raise the money to get into pig production and began with 170 sows.

With farm manager Jamie Brown, they joined a new BQP initiative called EcoFarm in 2010, a three-year project looking at the environmental and management practices of outdoor pig farming.The EcoFarm scheme was absorbed into the business after talks with FWAG, Natural England and the landlord.

Andy Rankin, manages a large staff producing diverse crops on a wide range of soils across 3550ha for Westrope Farming. He has overseen substantial expansion alongside collaboration with five other growers in the development of a vegetable packing and marketing group.

The business is owned by Philip and Carolyn Westrope, and was farming about 1,000ha when Andy joined in 1999, and was set to double that. But expansion has gathered pace under his management to cover 3,500ha across eight farms.

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Turnover is almost �8m and the aim is for at least a 10% profit as well as asset growth.

Andrew Francis has helped build a sought-after food and farming brand around the 22,500 acre Elveden Estate, benefiting other producers as well as the home farm.

The estate’s diversifications include domestic and corporate Christmas trees, pre-grown instant hedging, a pub with bed and breakfast accommodation, an Elveden kitchen garden supplying chefs and catering establishments, and a courtyard which includes a food hall and restaurant.

The estate devotes approximately 10,000 acres to farming, 7,000 acres to forestry and 3,500 acres to conservation. It operates as a standalone business, with the farm team employing up to 40 people at peak times.

Diversification, along with the creation of Elveden brands to market these enterprises, has seen the estate become a destination for tourists and food lovers. It has led to the employment of a further 95 local people, with more casual staff at peak times.