2021 winners follow up: Tim Sinnott, Dairy Farmer of the Year

Tim Sinnott knows a thing or two about innovation, which is one of the reasons he was crowned Dairy Farmer of the Year at last year’s British Farming Awards. Ruth Wills finds out how life has been since winning the accolade.

Tim Sinnott impressed the British Farming Awards judges with his holistic approach to innovation and his ability to look to and anticipate the future, staying one step ahead of his milk buyer. Having dedicated his dairy career to striving for innovation, he was able to improve herd efficiency by making
improvements across all areas of the business, from forage production to health and welfare. Located near Nuneaton, Warwickshire, Ivy House Farm houses 210 Holstein cows, milked three times a day. He says: “Our focus was on making lots of small improvements which, when added together, have a big impact on sustainability and efficiency. “As an Arla 360 producer, we were actively encouraged to make sustainability gains; from improving cow longevity
via genomic testing and selective breeding to reducing reliance on bought-in feed.” He believes working towards sustainability is a win-win. He says: “As the businesses becomes more sustainable, we become more efficient and profitable. At the same time, we demonstrate to the public, which is becoming increasingly interested in sustainability, that we care about the environment and want to do the best by our animals.”

Technology trials

Technology helped him towards his sustainability goal and he worked with Aldi on a new cow scanner project, utilising a 3D image capturing system
to track cows’ movements and automatically spot early warning signs of mobility issues. Tim was also an enthusiastic adopter of multi-cut silage and, despite running an intensive, high output system, he wanted to reduce purchased feed and increase milk from forage. In 2021, yields from forage averaged
3,300 litres out of a total 13,400-litre yield and concentrate use dropped from 0.35kg/litre in 2020 to 0.34kg/litre. “We needed to keep some soya
in the cows’ diet to support their high yields, but I have always been aware of the environmental issues surrounding soya,” says Tim, who sources sustainably certified soya. Another key focus for Tim was utilising new techniques and technology to improve cow longevity. He says: “I needed healthy, fertile cows with good longevity in the milking herd to make the most efficient use of feed. “The aim was to breed these traits into the herd and ensure we had plenty of information to help with breeding decisions, utilising genomic testing data and information from pedometers to reinforce visual checks.” He attributes a lot of his success to Pathfinders – a benchmarking group. He says: “Pathfinders is a group of like-minded farmers who in my opinion are among the best in the country. “Without their help and openness, we wouldn’t have taken our business to the levels we did.”

Career high

All of these approaches combined saw Tim become winner of last year’s Dairy Farmer of the Year award, an accolade which was the result of a nomination.
“It was the proudest night of my farming career. I was honoured just to be nominated, when they said my name I couldn’t believe it – it was amazing.
“The morale boost was phenomenal – it was a proper high. I think more people should put themselves forward – there are no negatives in going for an award.” Although the future looks slightly different for him now, it is fair to say Tim went out on a high. He says: “I’m 56 and I didn’t have
anyone to take on the farm, so we started planning to diversify and sell the cows when I got to 60. But we had staffing issues and I didn’t want
standards to slip.” The winter of 2021 was a good time to sell and the auctioneer gained the highest price per cow they had ever achieved for a commercial herd. Tim says: “It was the right thing at the right time.” He has now diversified into storage containers and is focusing on regenerative
arable farming, growing maize, wheat and oilseed rape across 161 hectares (398 acres). Tim says: “We have good soil fertility because of the cows and slurry, so I will work on maintaining that. “It means I can also run it as a one-man unit, which will give us a better quality of life. This change has led to a better work life balance and quality of life going forwards. “It’s truly a team effort, you need to make sure everyone is on board and understands your aims – be open with discussions – ensure everyone feels part of the team. “Join discussion or benchmarking groups; farmers are open and happy to give advice. Concentrate on what you’re good at, be honest if there are any weaknesses, work to improve them and if you’re struggling talk to someone.”