Former Gurkha wins prestigious award for sustainable grazing idea

29 Apr 2019

A former army Captain has won this year’s Pinnacle Award for entrepreneurship in farming, with his plan to offer out-sourced cattle grazing services.

Alex Crawley, who recently gained the Royal Agricultural University’s (RAU) Graduate Diploma in Agriculture, claimed the £2,000 prize at the competition run by the Farmers Club and consultancy ADAS.

The Pinnacle Awards, sponsored by the Cave Foundation, award the Nickerson Cup to the best new idea from the UK’s top farm business management students.

Key criteria are precise project reports and a strong business case, backed by robust financial analysis.

The eight finalists attended a judging day at The Farmers Club in central London, including a probing interview panel and a 10-minute presentation to a room of fellow contestants, lecturers and judges asking questions from the floor.

Alex’s Grazing Management business idea beat competition from universities including Harper Adams and Nottingham.

His plan spots an emerging market for the grant-funded ‘hoof-powered’ restoration of rare species grassland through grazing, mixed with sales of ‘wild-flower fed’ premium beef.

The project is aimed at meeting the needs of public bodies (like the MOD), for out-sourced grazing within large areas of low productivity grassland, offering full compliance with conservation scheme rules, environmental regulations, public access and TB movement restrictions.

Judges cited his “Excellent out-of-the-box thinking, consideration of key personnel, problem solving, communication skills and financial planning.” 

Asked what may have given his idea the edge Alex, 36, who lives in Cirencester, said: “In their feedback, the judges said they liked the strategic long term vision, the level of detail and the determination to make a go of it.”

Alex, who served in Afghanistan and is currently working in the Civil Service, added: “The military taught us to plan in real detail, look at the worst case scenarios and plan to mitigate them which seemed to appeal to the judges.

“I think the agricultural sector has such a huge range; you can be dealing with genetics, global economics, ecology, ethics, business and biology all in the same morning, which I think is pretty unique.”

Encouraging others to choose his course Alex said: “The RAU has a focus on real world business that runs through its core. At every turn we looked at the financial realities rather than just carrying out a purely academic exercise. We were also given plenty of curricular and extra-curricular opportunities to plan entrepreneurial approaches.

“There are some great lecturers and the small campus gives it more of a big family feel. This meant I was able to go to them and talk about all kinds of ideas and ask for advice with national experts.”

Tony Turner, Pinnacle Judge and ADAS Senior Business Consultant said of the competition: “It was interesting to see how much innovation was on show, driven maybe by the uncertain political climate and difficulties assessing where the industry will be five years from now.”