Ben Atkinson

Ben Atkinson from Rippingale farms has just over 2710 hectares of fertile clay loam in South Lincolnshire. He owns about half of the land and the rest is a combination of rented land and five whole farm contracts. He grows a variety of combinable crops including winter and spring barley, wheat, oilseed rape and spring beans, and also some sugar beet.

Last year, the farm had a full cross compliance and ELS inspection by the Rural Payments Agency, with the inspector spending two weeks at the farm. “You hear some horror stories about inspections, and it could have been a nerve-wracking experience, but because we were confident everything was in order it was actually a really positive affair,” says Ben.

Across his land he works with four Frontier agronomists; Andrew Huyton, Jon Sanderson, David Frobisher and Fiona Spires. “We’ve been working with Andy, David and Jon for a long time now, Fiona has joined us more recently,” says Ben. “As well as visiting once a week and field walking she also prepares all of our management plans, as part of MyCompliance, Frontier’s farm management advisory service.” And there are a lot of plans to write; crop protection policies, soil management plans, weed plans, rodenticide plans, manure plans, integrated pest management plans, nutrient management plans and soil protection reviews. “Basically all the legal documents that we need to produce for cross compliance.”

Ben Atkinson

Ben Atkinson

Having this assistance releases Ben from the office so that he can spend his time more efficiently and effectively on the farm, but that is not the only benefit. “It does save us a lot of time, but it is the expertise that is invaluable to us,” explains Ben. “Farmers in the UK have to farm under so much red tape, and because it changes all the time it can be difficult to keep abreast of all the legalities, especially when you are out actually growing the crop. Fiona ensures that we are keeping within all the regulations; she keeps us on the straight and narrow.”

Because Fiona is also one of Ben’s team of agronomists, she can use that insight to help her with the report writing and compliance work. “She walks the margins, she sees what chemicals we’re using and in short, she knows what is happening on the farm. When you combine that knowledge with her meticulous attention to detail, you know that when she produces a report it is going to be spot on.”

" It’s all about the people. You build up a relationship with your agronomist, you trust them. You both know how the other works, and that really does bring a number of benefits for me as the farmer. " - Ben Atkinson

So, when the RPA inspectors arrived, Ben knew that everything was in good order. “Fiona is very thorough and precise, so we knew that all the paperwork was complete, all the chemicals in the store had the right numbers on and nothing was out of date. It is that attention to detail that the inspectors are looking for. Having that peace of mind really does make the whole experience a lot less stressful.”

More recently the farm has undertaken a LEAF Marque audit and become LEAF farmers. Again Fiona advised on the policies and assisted with their plans. “I want to produce my crops and run my business in a sustainable manner, and I think people are becoming far more aware of what they eat and how it is produced. As that is happening there is also a growing demand from producers and consumers for crops that have been grown in a sustainable manner, and I think contracts which demand that kind of assurance are likely to increase in future.”

As well as working with the agronomists and using the MyCompliance service, Ben also markets some of his wheat and oilseed rape through Frontier and buys a significant proportion of his crop inputs from the company. He works closely with Ron Burnside, his farm trader, to identify opportunities to benefit the farm’s bottom line and is open to new approaches to managing the risk of market volatility. For him the decision to work with Frontier comes down to a single factor.

He adds “I know that all four of the agronomists are going to come at a certain time each week; it’s as regular as clockwork. I know they’re going to walk every inch of every field if I need them too. I know they’ve got my best interests at heart.” He also appreciates the fact that those people he works closely with are supported by a large team.

Looking to the future Ben foresees new technologies playing an increasingly important role in the agricultural industry. “From new traits in plant breeding to using information technology more efficiently, you know that Frontier is going to be at the forefront of that development. You know they have the scale and ability to access new technology in future.”

But here and now success can be measured in a very simple way. “We walked around the farm yesterday and it’s nice to see the crops looking so well. Everybody takes a pat on the back for that, we work together as a team.”

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