BFA shortlist

Mark Means is a big believer in the power of what implementing small changes can bring to a farm business. Emily Scaife finds out more about his approach.

Mark Means confesses he’s the opposite of what most people imagine when they think of a sustainable farmer. But, regardless of his own perception, the judging panel for the British Farming Awards thought otherwise as he was named Sustainable Farmer of the Year at the 2022 British Farming Awards.

“To win the award was a huge surprise,” Mark says of the moment he found out he had won.

“I am the opposite of what most people would say is a ‘sustainable farmer’ – I’m not a tree hugger.

“A lot of local people have told me they’re doing similar things to me on their farm. The award is for my farm, but it also showcases what many farmers are doing as standard.

“It’s great the award went to someone who is still ploughing once in a while and hasn’t planted catch crops or cover crops on a lot of their land. Because it’s not all about those things – the resources we’re looking after include electricity, water, the soil and people.

“We employ local people and give them the right training so that we can all keep moving forwards.”

Mark’s farm operates under the name J.S. Means and produces crops and vegetables at Terrington near King’s Lynn. Mark works alongside his wife, Sharon, and four other employees to grow produce for most of the main supermarkets.

In addition to his own land, Mark has two longstanding shared farming arrangements with nearby farmers, bringing his total farmed land area to 1,000 hectares.

“Some of our land grows continuous wheat, some is in a wide rotation of eight years producing potatoes, sugar beet and peas,” he explains.

Prior to returning to the farm, Mark spent time as a potato buyer for Morrisons and a potato merchant in North Yorkshire, giving him a unique insight into what the supermarkets want and how to work with them.

The crown jewels

Mark’s approach to farm management and sustainability has always come down to what is best for his soil.

“We farm on some of the best land in the country and the soil is our crown jewels – our aim is always to look after it as best we can,” he says.

“Every decision or purchase always comes down to whether or not it will it help the farm; will it improve safety, will it boost efficiency and will it be kind to the soil? Anything that meets that criteria, we will do – like Sir David Brailsford’s Sky cycling team, we believe in small, incremental changes as they all add up.”

Mark has always been interested in sustainability.

“It’s the right thing to be doing – I wholeheartedly embrace it,” he says.

An early adopter of the Leaf Marque, Mark’s farm has been certified since 2002 and he has been carbon auditing the business using the Cool Farm model for the past 10 years. He believes his efforts have boosted  biodiversity, and he hopes populations of tree sparrows, bumblebees and marsh harriers will continue to rise on the farm.

Located just a mile from the sea, installing irrigation on the farm in 2004 meant Mark could recycle water, which proved particularly useful when producing high-quality potatoes for supermarkets.

“Excess winter rain is recycled from farm drains and wellpoints, and we get water from there rather than putting additional pressure on the drinking-quality water,” he explains.

The farm also has three small wind turbines and 130kW of solar to sustain and reduce energy for 5,000 tonnes of cold storage and irrigation.

Knowing when to say no

Although Mark is passionate about sustainability and trying new things on the farm, he says winning the award has given him the confidence to question whether certain practices would suit his soil type and demand more information before embracing new methods.

“It’s given me the confidence to challenge the direction we’re heading in and question if it’s the right thing for our soil type and our commercial cereal rotation,” he explains.

“I still naively believe that the UK should be growing a lot of its own food, to the high standards we’re currently growing it. So, when it has felt as though the Government is trying to force us to do certain things that go against that, I now have the confidence to highlight the potential issues.

“We’ve got to know the answers to our questions before we all race towards catch crops and cover crops on certain soil types and embrace methods such as direct drilling.”

Mark describes himself as an ‘inquisitive person’ which has enabled him to make changes that have boosted yield and quality while using the minimum amount of inputs.

“I’ve always enjoyed looking at different techniques and I like what I’m seeing with regen agriculture, companion cropping and cover cropping. But it doesn’t suit everyone,” he says.

“You need to be careful what you’re doing because you might not be able to do it. Or you might find that it could be detrimental in five to 10 years’ time. You could introduce a species you’ve never grown before that could host or increase certain fungi or bacteria.

“It’s serious and there is a lot we don’t know yet.”

Many will be able to sympathise with Mark’s uncertainty as it’s a feeling most farmers are used to. And, with the past 12 months proving particularly challenging and unpredictable, making long term business decisions is more difficult than ever.

“We’re in a period of limbo at the moment and it’s frightening,” Mark admits.

“Farming sustainably must mean farming profitably too and this year, after taking into account electricity and labour costs, we’ve made a loss on our potatoes.

“I don’t know what we will be doing next year right now. I don’t know which fertilisers I should be ordering. The wheat price looks as though its dropping considerably, so do I want to keep growing that? Or should I go into more environmental or stewardship schemes, because at least they provide a steady payment? I just don’t know.”

The profitability of the farming business has a direct impact on which sustainability projects Mark can pursue.

“Making a loss isn’t sustainable,” he says. “If we don’t make any money from the farming side of the business, we can’t do any of the other things we love doing. I love planting hedgerows and sowing pollen and nectar areas – I do it because I want to, not because there’s any money in it. We like doing it for the people who live near us, the environment and the wildlife.”

As well as farming sustainably, Mark is a passionate food producer – something he fears isn’t valued by the present Government.

“It’s tough when food production is your raison d’etre,” he says.

“We are going to run out of food and we’ll then have to import more expensive, lower quality food,” he says. “I question why we can’t just produce enough in this country.”

The future

Despite the current obstacles, Mark hopes to continue blending sustainability and food production within his business moving forwards.

“One of the farmers I’m in a shared farming arrangement with is really interested in beef production,” he says.

“As well as producing a very good, sustainable beef we would put the organic matter back on our land and I would like to have more grass in the rotation. It’s an exciting prospect for both of us.”

He is also exploring the role battery storage could play on the farm, which is particularly pertinent given the past year’s rise in energy prices.

“We’re always looking to make incremental improvements so we’re  learning about battery storage at the moment,” he says. “We’ve still got a lot to learn – but it’s exciting.


  • Installed irrigation in 2004 in order to supply recycled water for potato crops
  • Leaf Marque certified since 2002
  • Carbon auditing the business using the Cool Farm model for the past 10 years
  • Has three small wind turbines and 130kW of solar to sustain and reduce energy for 5000t of cold storage and irrigation
  • Currently exploring options for battery storage


  • Mark Means farms 1,000ha near King’s Lynn, just a mile from the sea
  • Grows wheat and sugar beet alongside potatoes and peas, for most of the main supermarkets
  • In addition to his own land, Mark has two longstanding shared farming arrangements with nearby farmers
  • Mark works alongside his wife, Sharon, and four other employees

A word from the sponsor

Lloyds Bank is delighted to be able to support the Sustainable Farmer of the Year category in the 2023 British Farming Awards.

We are committed to helping farmers, landowners and agricultural businesses transition to a more sustainable future and are excited to learn about the innovations being made by this year’s entrants.


This award recognises farmers who are safeguarding the land for future generations and are embracing sustainable farming practises which work in harmony with the environment.

You will be proactively reducing your carbon footprint whether that be through exploring regenerative agriculture, biodiversity, soil health, water management stockmanship and renewable energy to name but a few.

Find out more about the category here.