Winners follow-up: Jack Bedlow – 2018 Farm Worker of the Year
With a strong interest in precision farming and science, new entrant into agriculture Jack Bedlow is proving an excellent assistant farm manager at Sherwood Farms.
Within a year of graduating with a first-class degree in agricultural business management, Jack Bedlow’s achievements have continued to grow.
Having secured his role as assistant farm manager for Sherwood Farms in Oxfordshire, such has been his contribution to the arable business, he was named Farm Worker of the Year at the 2018 British Farming Awards.
After passing A-levels in maths, economics and computer science, Jack originally planned to go on to study computer science, but at the 11th hour, he changed his plans and decided to follow his heart into agriculture.
He says: “I am not from a farming background, but had harvest jobs on a local farm while I was at college.
“I just knew I wanted to go into farming.”
Although his sixth form college was not particularly encouraging of students pursuing a career in agriculture, Jack says his family were keen for him to follow his chosen path.
He secured a place at the university of Reading to study agricultural business management, which included a work placement. Although Jack was due to start work on a farm in Lincolnshire, a last minute change turned out to be fortuitous for him.
He says: “The farm had some business changes and could no longer take me, so I ended up going to Oxfordshire instead to work for the Dart family for 18 months.”
After the placement, he returned to university to finish his degree, but continued to work for the farm on a part-time basis before joining the team as assistant farm manager after graduating last summer.
Jack works with experienced farm manager Mark Oldroyd, who has been with the business for almost 30 years. Jack says: “I had been helping him while I was on placement and I think we work well together.”
Sherwood Farms is the combination of two family farms owned by Angus and Patricia Dart, plus some rented land, contract farming and short-term rental agreements.
In total, they farm 1,220 hectares (3,014 acres) of arable land, including 183ha (452 acres) of temporary grass, and 194ha (480 acres) of maize, plus a further 134ha (331 acres) of permanent grassland.
As well as the arable unit, the farm is home to two pedigree Holstein Friesian herds, each milking about 300 cows, with a team of five staff working for each herd.
Mark, Jack and their team have responsibility for all the arable and forage crops and most of the tractor work on-farm, Jack explains.
Alongside routine operations for the dairy unit, such as silaging and muck-spreading, the team also has responsibility for estate management tasks, including drainage, hedge-cutting and tree felling.
The owners are heavily involved in practical and managerial parts of the farm, says Jack.
“I work under the farm manager, acting as a level between the arable team and the farm manager, to help meet the owners’ targets and objectives for the farm.”
Recent investments on the farm have included huge improvements to grain storage (from bin-based drier systems to on-floor storage) and also to straw storage.
These improvements have helped streamline operations on-farm.
Similarly, investment in machinery has enabled the team to ensure all operations are carried out at the optimum time for crop and soil, says Jack.
As well as acting as a link between farm manager and the rest of the team, Jack’s role includes being the main sprayer operator and is responsible for one of the farm’s two Bateman RB35 self-propelled sprayers.
He says: “I have a lot of responsibility for making sure applications are correct and meeting correct crop timings. I also am responsible for spray recordkeeping and looking after spray stores.”
Other responsibilities include looking after one of the farm’s main grain stores, monitoring and making decisions on how to look after grain as it comes into the store and throughout winter when it is being stored.
He says: “As part of this I also look after assured combinable crops records to ensure we pass inspections, as well as cross-compliance and implementing a better health and safety policy to protect the business and better look after all of us.”
Jack has been involved in introducing new technology to the business, in particular its use in the farm’s move towards nutritional farming, which aims to decrease its use of nitrogen and other chemicals.
Jack has implemented a method to keep service records for the farm’s fleet of 14 tractors.
He says: “We carry out all of our servicing and repairs in-house, so I keep a record of that, making sure nothing misses its service interval.”
Challenges for the farm include staffing, as Jack admits they are very short-staffed at the moment.
He says: “We find it difficult to find people with the skillset we need who are willing to put in the hard work and long hours.”
At the moment, the arable team stands at four full-time members of staff, but would benefit with two more colleagues.
Jack says: “Mark and I are doing our management roles, but also operating kit. It is difficult at times to draw the line at getting spraying done when we also have paperwork and other tasks to sort out so everything else keeps rolling.”
An even bigger frustration for Jack is the public’s misconceptions of farming and lack of understanding of food production and what that involves.
“Some people think we do not care about the countryside and our animals, yet when you talk to them for half-an-hour, you can easily change their opinions, as they realise they have no evidence. It is so frustrating.
“If we didn’t have happy cows, we wouldn’t achieve high milk yields. If we didn’t look after the environment and soils, we wouldn’t grow crops.
“People complain about our spraying, but don’t understand the level of technology involved is ensuring precision application.
“What they don’t understand is the licensing and testing equipment and users have to go through to make sure applications are exactly spot on.”
A step towards addressing the public perception of the farm locally has been to set up a Facebook page, which Jack uses to share photos and information about what is happening on-farm.
He says: “I am really pleased with how it has gone so far and there is lots of interaction.”
His purchase of a drone has spurred him to take photos of the farm showing the process of cutting grass for silage, with captions explaining different processes involved.
He has also used the page to share photos of environmental projects on-farm.
Jack says: “Angus and Patricia do a lot of environmental work on the farm voluntarily. For example, we have recently added wild flower margins to buffer zones. They have come on really well and a lot of people are pleased to see them. I am proud to be able to share good work, as local people don’t realise.”
As he looks to the future, Jack would like to become a farm manager himself and is determined to build up his experience.
He says: “For us as a farm, my ambition is we can keep producing more, but in a better way for the environment. If we can do that, it would save costs and we would become more profitable, which is important for any business.”
Winning the Farm Worker of the Year Award at last year’s British Farming Awards was a very proud moment for Jack.
He says: “I was nominated by Mark and Patricia, which was amazing. It is nice to be recognised for my hard work.
“Angus and Patricia, Mark and his wife Louise, and my parents all came to the awards evening, which was really nice too. Since winning, I have more confidence in myself and I am more confident talking about my ideas. I would definitely recommend other people to think about nominating their staff.”