bfa shortlist

As a new entrant into farming James Edwards has faced challenges, but with an admirable honesty and a no-nonsense approach he has emerged with more confidence in his decisions. Sarah Todd finds out more.

Sponsored by bfa sponsor

Winning the New Entrant category at last year’s British Farming Awards has helped open doors – or rather field gates – for James Edwards.

However, it would be wrong to say the months following the accolade have been plain sailing, as he has continued facing challenges which he has successfully overcome.

He says: “I lost some rented land and, coupled with the drought, it meant I had to sell the ‘B’ flock I had built up of cross-bred, and not quite as good quality, animals.”

But he has bounced back and been lucky enough to recently secure about 344 hectares (850 acres) of mostly grazing marsh from the RSPB in Essex.

“It is on a three-year tenancy and obviously the hope is that it goes well and we move on to a more long-term agreement,” says 38-year old James, who is the first to admit his dreadlocks do not make him the
most conventional-looking farmer.

“People wrongly presume I am some sort of hippy, when the reality is I just was not very good at looking after my long hair.

“As an interesting aside, it is often the traditional farmer who takes absolutely no notice of how I look and is much more interested in the quality of my livestock.”

It is with a dogged determination and a realistic attitude towards his bottom line that James believes he is set apart from many other new entrants.

He says: “A lot of newcomers to farming expect to be able to post a few pretty pictures online and live an idyllic lifestyle. Done properly, farming is hard work. The best advice I can give anybody wanting to try it is to get your sleeves rolled up and learn from people who make a living from it.

“I took a shepherding job which led to me being able to buy my own sheep. I still work on a contract basis a couple of days a week for somebody else and, in my opinion, too many new entrants expect a living handed to them on a plate.

“A few thousand Instagram followers liking pictures does not make you a farmer. It really is not all roses around the farmhouse door. I still live in a rented semi miles away from my sheep.”


James is a first-generation farmer who grew up in Wales.

The son of teachers, it was perhaps no surprise that he originally followed an academic path. He went to university and achieved a masters in social anthropology and a masters in social pedagogy.

After time overseas he returned to the UK, worked with children and ended up getting into farming.

His father had kept sheep as a hobby when James was a very young boy, so it was with them that he started.

He also followed in his father’s footsteps with his love of dogs.

James says: “Dad trained spaniels for trialling, so I had grown up around dogs and I am the first to admit they have played a huge part in my success.

“Through them, I was able to prove my worth as a shepherd. Becoming a farmer in my own right has all stemmed from that.”

Having found too many barriers for a first-generation farmer like himself in Wales, James moved to Hampshire to take a job shepherding at Kingsclere Estates, where he was hugely inspired by fourth-generation farmer Tim May, who has taken the estate down a regenerative route.

James says: “Tim is very forward thinking and a big believer in the fact that if you do what you have always done you will get what you always got from the land.

“I would say Tim has been at least 10 years ahead of his time with his attitudes towards things such as regenerating his soil.”

A second inspirational figure during his journey has been Tim White, the farmer behind the Exlana breed of sheep.

James says: “At 6ft 3in with a bad back, I knew I did not want to be shearing, so the fact the Exlana has a self-shedding fleece was instantly appealing.

“I went over to Tim’s with my dad and bought 120, funding them with a personal loan and telling the bank I was buying a truck.

“I really respect Tim’s theory that most sheep can be pushed through concentrated feed to look good.

“The real skill lies in keeping sheep in a low-input system and noticing, for example, the ram lambs which stand out as exceptional.

“These can then be retained and used for improvement. Tim’s meticulous flock recording is something I aspire to.”

Those original 120 ewes grew to two flocks, the aforementioned ‘A’ and ‘B’, totaling about 2,000 ewes.

“To anybody wondering about whether to throw their hat into the British Farming Awards ring, I would say go for it. It has given me some validation that I am doing something right”

Single flock

With the loss of grazing and the impact of last year’s drought, James is currently down to a single flock of about 1,200, keeping the ewe lambs he wants for replacements and selling the rest at a premium price of about £135/head into breeding flocks.

He also keeps about 130 Charmoise ewes, mainly for selling rams to other farmers as crossing rams over maternal breeds to produce fat lambs. In addition to the new land in Essex, James still rents 81ha (200 acres) in Hertfordshire and a further 81ha (200 acres) in Hampshire.

The RSPB land is the jewel in the crown, as it is in a ring fence with a good range of buildings. All other land is let on annual licences.

James says: “The RSPB holding lends itself to a cattle enterprise, which I am planning to start this summer.”

His lambs are born outside in May. He pays to over-winter them on arable crops and they are then sold from these fields between December and February.

James says: “When I first started out I naively had the dream that one day I would be able to buy my own farm.

“The harsh reality is that is never going to happen unless I win the lottery. It is hard when you are coming up against big money people who are buying up land as a way of avoiding tax rather than actually having any desire to farm it.

“The most I can hope for is to eventually try and consolidate my farming efforts in one county, rather than dashing between several locations.

“I am single at the moment, but it would be the dream to have a home on-farm if I ever had a family.

“I am taking an old caravan down to Essex for lambing and that is a new chapter for me.”


While he is mostly happy with his dogs for company, James has noticed that in a county like Essex he is surrounded by people but often quite isolated because of his rural lifestyle.

“I had to move away to get a start in farming,” says James, who runs his business under the name J.J. Livestock Solutions.

“A lot of people have helped me on my way, but renting land over such a wide area is quite a nomadic lifestyle.

“Talking to people and making contacts is so important as a new entrant. It was through the farm I contract shepherd for in Hertfordshire, Kaiapoi Romneys, that I heard about the RSPB grazing marshes to rent in Essex.”

James has a clear vision of only buying the right stock and aiming for a sustainable system.

He says: “As a first-generation farmer I bring hunger, drive and have nothing to lose. If I want to get ahead I have to
be good; I can’t just sit back and be a caretaker of the land.”

Biggest challenges in the months following James’ award success continue to be access to land and security of tenure.

He says: “My system is low-input forage-based on regenerative principles, such as cover crops and herbal leys.

“My focus is on genetics, with efficient low-input ewes and lambs, which can be finished on forage.

“To anybody wondering about whether to throw their hat into the British Farming Awards ring, I would say go for it. It has given me some validation that I am doing something right and also helped highlight how difficult it is to build a successful business which actually makes money as a new entrant.

“It has been a rollercoaster ride. Last summer I was forced to sell sheep because of the drought and then come autumn I was being interviewed on Countryfile and I have just secured 850 extra acres of land. It has been quite a turnaround.”


  • 344 hectares (850 acres) of grazing marshland in Essex rented from RSPB on three-year lease
    81ha (200 acres) of grazing in Hertfordshire
  • 81ha (200 acres) of grazing in Hampshire
  • Own flock of 1,200 mostly Exlana ewes. Gimmer lambs either retained or sold as breeding stock
  • Less labour input at lambing, reduced fly treatment, lower lameness and antibiotics use are all Exlana breed attributes; they are also known for resistance to worms
    Lambs not sold for breeding go to ABP
  • Closed flock, tested for iceberg diseases, with minimal medical usage
  • Goal of increasing formal performance recording of sheep flock to gain the premium found in selling breeding stock

A word from the sponsor

At Massey Ferguson, we live and breathe farming every day. We know the challenges, the opportunities and the rewards.

Above all, we know the people who make farming happen. The UK’s precious agricultural
sector is crucial to everyone. It must never be taken for granted.

The British Farming Awards highlight the vitally important work of the agricultural community and celebrate its outstanding achievements and we are delighted to be supporting the event again this year. As one of the top machinery brands, Massey Ferguson is totally dedicated to the future of farming and the creation of prosperous, sustainable farm businesses.

We continue to innovate, improve and refine to ensure farmers have the best possible tools for the job to achieve real, practical results in the field. Our extensive range of hard-working machines, combined with exceptional support services, are all designed to give customers the very best experience in owning and running our equipment. In partnership with customers and dealers, we are helping to shape the future of agricultural mechanisation and technology to meet the demands of 21st century food production. We are always asking ‘what’s next?’ Investment in people is paramount to a successful farming future.

Encouraging and motivating the upcoming cohort of farming professionals and fostering their energy and aspirations is close to our hearts. It is therefore a great pleasure to be sponsoring the New Entrant: Against the Odds category at this year’s awards.


This award welcomes entries from farmers who have had no security of a family farm and have built an enterprise completely from scratch. You may have worked your way to achieve your goals despite not coming from an agricultural background or have left a career in another industry to pursue a dream to farm.

Find out more here