With the 2020 British Farming Awards just around the corner, we pay a visit to last year’s Kubota-sponsored Agricultural Student of the Year, Aled Thomas.
Since being crowned 2019 Agricultural Student of the Year, Aled Thomas has taken a job as a trainee agronomist, become a partner in the family farm near Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, and been given a position on the NFYFC board of management.
To achieve all of this less than 12 months after graduating from Harper Adams with a 2:1 in Agriculture is no mean feat, but he says winning the award has really helped him get ahead.
Most notably, it played a significant role in securing a loan for expansion of the farm when he and his brother Rhydian, joined the partnership. “We were looking to borrow a significant amount of money and to my surprise, the bank manager said that my win was one of the reasons they approved it,” says Aled.
“Apparently, they pay more attention to the personalities of the people behind the business these days and the competition helped give them confidence in our plans.”
With this funding secured, the farm was able to invest in a new grain store, purchase some more land and diversify the business.
In total Aled, his brother Rhydian and father Ken now run a 120ha mixed farming operation from Hill Leys Farm at Portfield Gate, 70ha of which is owned and the rest rented. They grow wheat and barley, fatten cattle and have sheep on tack, as well as renting a block of land to veg grower Puffin Produce for cauliflowers.
They’re also in their first season growing potatoes, which are being marketed through AKP Group. “We’ve started small and we’re looking forward to expanding production with them year on year,” he says.
Aled spent his placement year with Puffin Produce and developed a keen interest in vegetable growing as a result. The firm grows and manages the cauliflower crop on the family farm entirely, but he says he still can’t resist getting involved in the process.
Farming aside, Aled has taken on a full-time role as a trainee agronomist with local firm PRAg Agronomy. He’s nearing the end of his BASIS training and hopes to take his final exam early next year. Once fully qualified, he hopes to expand his role and would like to get into vegetable agronomy.
He’s also keen to work with farmers to keep resistant weeds and disease out of his area. “We’re lucky that some of the problems experienced by arable farmers in the East haven’t yet taken here,” says Aled. “However, they are starting to creep in and I’m hoping to raise awareness so that we prevent them from becoming widespread.”
He’s been making good use of Muddy Boots farm management software, both for the agronomy business and the farm, which he uses on his smartphone, iPad and laptop. “It’s great that I can use it across all these devices and means I can literally work from anywhere,” he says.
He’s also been using a drone to help spot diseases, particularly clubroot in oilseed rape, where the aerial view helps quickly establish the scale of the problem.
Aled says there have been a number of other positive experiences as a result of the award, including being invited to attend the first Prince’s Countryside Fund’s Future Farmers Forum held at Aldi’s headquarters in Atherstone, Warwickshire. “It was an amazing opportunity and fascinating to see how such a well-organised and efficient firm operates.”
He also won the Elwyn Jones Scholarship through Wales YFC, which funded a trip to California to learn about growing vegetables in an ever-changing climate. His trip was cut short due to Covid-19, but he hopes to return and finish his research as soon as possible.