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Sustainable Farmer of the Year

Date Published: 19/10/2015

A West Sussex farmer and OF&G licensee is celebrating after being crowned Sustainable Farmer of the Year at a prestigious industry event.

John Pitts was handed the title at the Farmers Weekly Awards in London earlier this month for his work at the Woodhorn Group, a 600 acre arable and dairy enterprise at Oving, near Chichester.

Mr Pitts, who switched to organic production in 1998 after taking over the farm in 1990, grows wheat, barley, maize and legumes on the farm, as well as running a 240-head dairy herd.

He has also diversified the farm by creating a compost business involving two recycling centres with an annual capacity of 100,000t, and has a 5MW ground-based solar PV system.

The award’s judges said they were impressed with Mr Pitts’ passion, innovation and professionalism, and the way he had created a multifaceted business which played to the farm’s best assets.

They also praised the fact that all parts of the business are financially sustainable, and that Mr Pitts constantly challenges the way the farm operates.

Mr Pitts, a fourth generation farmer whose family have been tenants of the Church Commissioners at Woodhorn Farm since 1882, said it was fantastic to have the farm’s work recognised by the industry.

“We went in for the award as a bit of fun with no expectations,” he said. “I was chuffed to be a finalist, let alone to win. It was amazing.”

Mr Pitts said he had tried to drive the sustainable element of the business since he started farming, something he felt organic production fitted with.

“It’s not just about being organic though,” he said. “A lot of what sustainability means to us is encompassed by the organic ethos in terms of land management and the environment, but its also about our role in the community, how we look after staff and about being profitable.

“To have industry recognition for what we’re doing and have them say that it’s worthwhile is great.”

Praising the other finalists and award-winners, Mr Pitts added: “It’s nice to realise what a great industry we are part of.

“We have some of the best innovators and people who are moving their businesses forward, despite everything going on in the market at the moment.

“It shows that even in difficult times we can still innovate and have successful businesses whilst being sustainable. It’s definitely possible to combine both elements.”

OF&G certification manager Steve Clarkson said Mr Pitts was a credit to the organic sector.

“John’s been certified with OF&G for many years and throughout that time has shown that it’s possible to operate a profitable, sustainable, organic business,” he said.

“Like many of our licensees he continues to innovate and drive developments on his farm, and we’re very pleased that he is getting the recognition he deserves for all of his hard work.”