Innovation, diversification and commitment are the hallmarks of the NFU Excellence Awards national winners. Julian Hunt reports

Take a carrot grower, a cheese producer and a farm shop retailer, and what do you get? Three of the outstanding winners in this year’s NFU Farming Excellence Awards.
The awards reward farmers and growers who have made an outstanding and innovative contribution to agriculture and horticulture. The national winners were all announced at a special lunch in London earlier this week.
So what made this trio stand out in their particular categories? Well, Clem Tompsett, of Tompsett Burgess Growers, won the category for best innovation in the food chain with his purple carrots.
Tompsett has been interested in coloured carrots for five years or so and had even run a private trial. Then, working closely with marketing company IFP and Sainsbury, Tompsett was able to bring the Purple Haze carrot to market.
“The thinking behind this product is to appeal to kids and get them to crunch a carrot. We don’t think there are any other fresh, coloured carrots currently on the sale in the UK,” says Tompsett.
When unveiled last year, the purple carrot was a big hit and generated a lot of media coverage. Tompsett says his company will continue to develop coloured carrots and is looking at the processing market as another outlet for his innovative product.
Judy Bell, of Shepherds Purse Cheeses, was the worthy winner of the Great British Food Award. Having identified a need for products that were suitable for those with an intolerance to dairy products, Bell started cheese making in 1987 using sheep’s milk.
What impressed the judges was that since 1987, Bell has built up the business, won plenty of awards, has diversified away from producing only cheese made with sheep’s milk and, in the process, has secured listings with major retailers.
The business is now expected to grow by between 20% and 30% in the next three years, she says.
And the secret of her success? “Innovation and attention to detail are at the heart of our philosophy,” explains Bell, “and by consistently winning medals and other accolades, we are proving that some of the best food really is made in Yorkshire.”
Another outstanding winner in this year’s National Farmers’ Union awards was Stuart Beare and his Tulleys Farm business - which was named farm retailer of the year (a category sponsored by The Grocer). The judges felt that Tulleys was a world class operation, having started out life as a pick your own farm in 1972 and evolved into an extremely diverse farm retail business. They were impressed by Tulleys’ commitment to retailing its own and other locally produced food and praised its ability to innovate with ‘retail-tainment’ - such as the way it uses themed events to great effect (its Spooktacular pumpkin festival every October being an obvious example).
“We understand the direct farm retail industry,” says Beare, who is a founder of the Farm Retail Association. “We have a very open policy on sharing ideas. And we also have great fun!”
Also in the awards, Richard Geldard was named young farmer of the year, the wildlife farmer of the year was Tom Meikle and Guy Smith was voted farming ambassador of the year. The David Brown award was presented to Nicholas Watts for his innovative bird seed consumer retail business that he runs out of his farm in Deeping St Nicholas in Spalding.
NFU president Tim Bennett says: “The judges had a very tough job in choosing this year’s finalists from a diverse selection of high calibre regional winners. The finalists demonstrate clearly the contribution forward thinking farmers and growers make to the countryside and the economy.”