|15th May saw the Sussex Food & Drink Awards 2019 take place at Brighton’s Amex Stadium. Voted for by a record-breaking 18,000 members of the public, the winners were unveiled in front of an audience of 350 guests. Amongst the categories was Young Sussex Farmer of the Year 2019, sponsored by the South of England Agricultural Society in association with Farmers Weekly magazine. Out of a record number of entries, this year’s award was claimed by 31-year-old Kate Lywood, from Marshalls Farm in Kirdford, West Sussex.
Kate is the director and dairy herd manager at Marshalls Farm, where she is the third generation of her family to work on the farm. Using her Animal Science degree, and experience gained from dairy farming in New Zealand, Kate has adapted the way the farm was run in a bid to create a simpler, more efficient, and more profitable business.
The project has been a great success, in large part due to the emphasis Kate has put on the welfare of the animals and the staff. By implementing a simple grazing system for the cows, and maintaining a 5-day shift pattern, Kate has ensured that both the animals and therefore the team are happy and healthy. And by embracing sustainable farming methods and investing in education for staff members, Kate is helping to ensure that the future of the farm is a long and prosperous one. And from 1st June 2019 the dairy is making the move to organic and will be fully organic within 2 years.
Kate said, “It’s a real honour to be recognised. Farming for me is all about making sure the animals are as happy and healthy as possible, and this award has helped show that what we’re doing is working. It really is a team effort at Marshalls Farm, with our fantastic staff, my co-director and father Roger, and my husband Jeremy all coming together to make it happen. Plus of course family members supporting and helping out regularly, from grandparents to nephews and nieces.”
Fellow finalist Rachel Knowles, 27 – who was up against Kate – has been working on her family’s farm in Cowfold for two years, where she has brought her experience from Sacred Gin to the cider-making business. Since Rachel has joined, Trenchmore Farm’s Silly Moo Cider has gone from strength to strength as a brand, whetting the whistles of thirsty punters at local venues like the Plumpton Racecourse, The Sussex Ox, and The Griffin Inn. By helping to train staff and offering samples, Rachel has built strong customer relationships with the Silly Moo brand, and has even expanded the business into wholesaling by engaging distributors in Sussex and London.
Rachel has also embraced sustainability in the form of the farm’s apple swap. Last year they collected 9 tonnes of surplus apples from surrounding orchards, which were exchanged for more than 2,000 bottles of Silly Moo. Rachel’s entrepreneurial vision for Silly Moo has established the cider as a popular local product with huge potential to expand further afield.
At 23 years-old, the third grand-finalist in the running was Stephen Rusling. Stephen is the youngest of the bunch but already has plenty of experience behind him. He has been working full time for a farming business based in Cuckfield for four years now, and currently holds the position of Arable and Contracting Manager at Holmsted Farm.
Stephen started out driving tractors and working with the livestock, before taking on spraying responsibilities at the arable setup. His current management position allows him to take a more active role in planning the future of the business, and his long-term aims include making the farm both more productive alongside maintaining the environment.
All of the nominees received a hearty round of applause from the audience, which included Iain Nicol, CEO of the South of England Agricultural Society, who had this to say:
“As part of our charitable remit to promote and showcase the best examples of agriculture, The South of England Agricultural Society was extremely proud to sponsor this year’s Young Sussex Farmer of the Year Award. It’s a great way for us to help promote the future stars of agriculture, and by recognising the hard work of young farmers like Kate, Stephen, and Rachel, we hope to be able to attract more young people to the industry and help guarantee its future.”