Damian Barson

Sponsored by bfa sponsor

The old adage ‘it is never too late to live your dream’ applies to Damian, who started farming at the age of 50.

He had always been pulled by the lure of the countryside but simultaneously lived life in the rat race of sales, finance and marketing for many years.

He never thought a career in farming was obtainable but, having started with nothing, Damian was lucky to take an opportunity which presented itself as a 26-hectare (64- acre) farm in Warton, Lancashire.

Steep learning curves were ahead in renovating new electric, security and a building to house his farming machinery.

Welcoming Saddleback pigs, Boer goats and a flock of English mules and Swaledales was the biggest challenge for Damian.

He has now moved into a new farm, more than 40 hectares (100 acres) near Pateley Bridge, which he will solely manage.

Social media has allowed Damian to connect with the world and to document his farming aspirations to a wide audience of followers interested in watching his adventures.

You may recognise Damian’s name for breaking a world record when he purchased a sheepdog, now called Skye, for £7,600 at an auction.

Now a first-generation farmer, he aims to use various types of livestock to manage the pasture, minimise the use of fertilisers and rotate animals to cultivate the land.

Embracing technology and software to improve his flock management has let Damian shine in an industry of change and innovation.

Damian says: “Every day there are unexpected costs on the farm which can push your mental state to the limits.

“Farming is not easy, and I want to help more people in the sector who suffer with poor mental health in farming, hence proactively working with charities such as Yellow Wellies.

“This is something I would like to bring to my new farm with talks and events. Every day is a school day; I am learning on the job, but through an amazing farming community I have so much help and advice.

“I am so excited to see what the years ahead in my farming journey have to offer, and also what I can offer to aspiring farmers of any age, gender and culture.”

Adam and Lucy Johnstone

Sponsored by bfa sponsor

Adam and Lucy run a low-input, regenerative dairy system on their farm with a mix of more than 200 Jersey cows. Their farm is a 50-50 effort of collaboration, learning and a desire to fulfil a dream lifestyle.

Prior to their farming journey, Adam and Lucy had grown up in the countryside but without farming in their blood.

Before joining the Royal Marines, Adam studied agriculture at Harper Adams University, which would prove vital down the line.

He was in the Royal Marines for five years but had to be medically discharged, which led to a below-knee amputation.

After meeting three years ago, Adam and Lucy wanted to embrace their love of the countryside and agriculture by working on a farm.

ejection and disappointment marked their struggles to get on the farming tenancy ladder, with landowners rejecting the couple due to their inexperience and lack of family connections. But Lucy’s desire to take on a job milking was enough credibility
for one farmer to give them a chance at Lyde Green Farm.

Having an 18-month toddler along the way has provided its own challenges, but it has not stopped them from achieving their goals.

They have had to start from scratch, buying 220 cows, a raw milk vending machine, a tractor, loader and scraper.

Demonstrating patience, determination and will to succeed, Adam and Lucy have worked tirelessly to make their business run efficiently and effectively. The couple say they have had to play to their strengths to make the farm a family for them.

Lucy says: “We have also had some steep learning curves without having experience, as we have had to rely a lot on our support networks such as our consultant and vet.

“We had the vet out for everything as we were unsure what to treat and how to treat them. It was very costly – sometimes we lost a cow because we did not pick up on something quick enough.

“We have both made it our mission to look and learn everything we can.

“As new parents, trying to run a business and raise a little boy on very little sleep, trying to learn everything we can, do everything ourselves and save money – it has been difficult.

“This really put our family and personal resilience to the test, but getting through it all has deepened our family bond and made us stronger.”

What the Judges said

Hard working, faced a lot of challenges. Passionate and forward thinking.

Jason and Amelia Greenway

Sponsored by bfa sponsor

Jason and Amelia are first-generation farmers from Dorset without any previous agricultural education or family business behind them. They are beginners to farming but with big hearts and motivation to see out their vision.

They agreed a farm tenancy with a National Trust landlord to give them the security and space they needed on 40.5 hectares (100 acres) of land. The land was previously used for intensive dairy farming and was left to rewild for a few years.

Their farm is certified organic and regenerative farming is at the heart of their business ethos, where they manage a range of Highland cattle and Mangalitza pigs.

The Mangalitzas graze on organic wetland, while the cattle graze the local forest in winter, reducing feed input and improving the rare pearl-bordered fritillary butterfly population among other floral and native species.

They deliver sustainable meat boxes from the farm, which are sold direct to the consumer through a local butcher who delivers nationwide with ecofriendly controlled packaging.

Jason and Amelia work alongside the National Trust to help achieve its conservation goals on the estate by extensively grazing livestock on low stocking numbers. They have turned their inexperience and youth – Jason, 27, and Amelia, 23 – into an asset.

“What we have brought to the agricultural sector is our youth, but I believe this is our best strength, because we have been more willing to take risks others would not in order to fulfil our dream,” says Amelia.

“We have taken a risk in investing in two breeds we have never worked with before to make a real go at our business.

“We have taken risks and stayed open-minded to new ideas on how we can farm better to help improve biodiversity and our animals’ welfare.

“To get our business up and running, I have held down two part-time jobs and Jason has held down one full-time job, which has provided us with enough money to invest in our business.

“With a lack of support behind us, we have turned disappointment into our motivation to prove to people we can beat the odds and make a success as first-generation farmers.”

In the future, Jason and Amelia have numerous projects in mind, including starting a wild camping business, a forest school and a base to host educational visits.

Alex and Emily Crawley

Sponsored by bfa sponsor

The opening characteristics of this year’s finalists quite rightly summarise Alex and the adversity he has faced.

Alex is a war veteran who proudly served with the Armed Forces in Afghanistan.

Following his diagnosis with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in 2017, he took a voluntary placement working with dairy cattle, which he said helped ‘soothe’ his PTSD.

When Alex won a Clyde-Higgs scholarship via the Royal Agricultural University, it was a dream come true. His studies culminated in working numerous jobs including calf rearing, dairy, sheep, beef and harvest work. His drive and determination enabled him
to gain experience and learn new skills.

After being awarded the Haygarth medal for graduating as a top student on the course, Alex soon got a job working on a large-scale beef and sheep farm.

His idea to formulate a business – Grazing Management – was just a pipe dream, but it did give him recognition when he won the National ADAS Pinnacle Awards for farm student business plan of the year.

With hope, tenacity and forwardthinking, Alex managed to secure 2.4 hectares (six acres) of rough pasture and launched Grazing Management in 2020. He credits the strength and valour of his wife, Emily, in building the business’ ethos which is centered on teamwork and togetherness.

One of Alex’s main focuses has been to take on contract conservation grazing to restore wildflower meadows, peatlands and heathlands. He takes on areas which are no longer commercially farmed and aims to bring them back to grazing.

“I worked with three different conservation grazing organisations to learn their best practice and combined this with my experience of standard livestock farming,” he says.

“This led to developing a unique business, focused on delivering a service rather than a product, and we have had success in making the business profitable and successful.

“With a military background, I bring planning, operational delivery and risk management skills. I am also not afraid of a bit of hard graft and bad weather.

“It is never going to be hotter than Helmand and it is never going to be colder than after two weeks living rough in the Black Mountains in January.

“However hard it gets, no one tried to kill me or my mates, so I put on a smile on and get back on with it.

What Alex and Emily

“We are genuinely blown away and we just wasn’t expecting it and so excited.”

“Innovation in the farming industry is important and we are incredibly proud to farm in a regenerative way that is respectful of the environmental and balancing food production.”

“There are a whole range of businesses here today and it is inspiring to be part of it and see what everyone is doing. “We are new entrants to farming and it is actually good to know that we are doing, we are doing well at. We have so much respect for other farmers and are just honoured to be part of this farming community.”

“Serving in the military helped me to understand the discipline of taking risks and understanding things are going to go wrong. Whether you work as a team or on your own, we get on with to achieve the end goal.”

“Tonight has been a great evening and we have really enjoyed meeting other farmers, and utterly blown away to see nearly 800 people and to be part of it.”

What the Judges said

“Forward thinking business model with an environmental focus. Passionate, warm people. Very good profitability.”