Reaseheath agricultural students have come top of the class for the second time in a regional challenge which proves they understand best environmental practice.

Three teams of Level 3 Extended Diploma students qualified for the north west finals of The Great Farm Challenge, a competition run in partnership with Natural England, the Environment Agency and United Utilities. Their presentations on how to manage a successful farm while protecting local water quality so impressed the judges that two of our teams were awarded first and second place. A team from Newton Rigg College came third. Last year we were first and third in the same competition.

The students spent three months reviewing farming practices which help to minimise water pollution. They then produced reports on the issues and changes needed to improve water management on a working farm they had visited.

Judges from the partner organisations selected the best reports and these were presented by the students at the Grand Final, held at the NFU headquarters in Skelmersdale last week.

First prize of £150 worth of Amazon vouchers plus a trophy and one year’s membership of the Royal Agricultural Society of England was awarded to Reaseheath’s Abbey Lewis, Lexi Barton and Drew Ackerley for their recommendations on how to improve farm infrastructure to minimise water pollution.

Robbie Nilsen, Mark Thomas, Will Ryley and Joe Richardson took second prize and £100 for their presentation, which included a suggestion of implementing a rain water harvesting system on the farm. They also won a further £50 for submitting the best written report. Reaseheath’s third team of Toby Hill, Jack Dudleston and Tom Kimpton just missed out on a place after a worthy presentation on other ways the farmer could improve farming practices to improve overall water quality.

The judges were unanimous in their praise for our students’ detailed reports and excellent presentations, which not only identified issues but put in place solutions. It was felt that the standard of presentations were even higher than last year.

Vanessa Cox, a senior advisor within Natural England’s Catchment Sensitive Farming team who organised this year’s event explained: “This is a great opportunity to show that we can have profitable farming while safeguarding the environment.

Lisa Kennedy, who delivers the ‘Environment’ module added: “This was a brilliant competition in which all the finalists demonstrated excellent knowledge and understanding of agriculture and the environment.

“It was a pleasure to take such enthusiastic students. They really did the department and college proud, not only with their hard work before the event but on the day itself, and we were delighted with the result.”

  • Winners Drew Ackerley, Abbey Lewis and Lexi Barton receive their awards from NFU Regional Director David Hall

  • Second placed Robbie Nilsen, Mark Thomas, Will Ryley and Joe Richardson with David Hall

“We hope it has inspired and influenced the students to recognise the relevance of the natural environment in their day to day lives, to be aware of the potential environmental impact of the farming choices they make and to be more motivated to improve the natural world around them. The key goal of the competition is to raise environmental awareness, and given the commitment shown by the students, this has been successfully achieved”.

United Utilities’ Strategy Development Manager Clare Bullen said: “We think this is such a valuable initiative and we’re very pleased to support it. The next generation of farmers will have a really important role to play in helping to protect water quality in our rivers.  By helping to avoid problems in the future this can reduce the cost to farming businesses and, ultimately, reduce the costs of water treatment which benefits all bill-paying customers.”