A truly Outstanding Contribution to Farming award winner

The winner of the Warners Law sponsored Outstanding Contribution to Farming Award section of the Food and Farming Industry Awards, Ian Pigott, has acted as a pioneer and spokesperson for the farming industry at every opportunity.

Ian farms around 1,700 acres at Thrales Farm near Harpenden in Hertfordshire. He was the founder of Open Farm Sunday. He is currently pioneering a zero-tillage trial across his farm working with Rothamsted as he looks identify more sustainable growing plans for UK farming.

But it is his farm school project that the judges highlighted this year. In the last 12 months, more than 3,200 school children from disadvantaged areas, inner cities and local schools have experienced the Farmschool programme, set up by Ian to help reconnect the general public and in particular young people with food and farming.

“Our mission statement is, ‘To create an engaging, thriving and dynamic environment for work, farming and education’,” he explains. “Our business is grounded in farming and heavily committed to reconnecting the general public and in particular young people with food and farming.”

That process included building a school on the farm in 2014, The Farmschool is now a registered Charity. The farmschool consists of three classrooms and a working kitchen. More than 3200 school children from disadvantage areas, inner cities and local schools have experienced the Farmschool programme in the past academic year.

In 2006, Ian Pigott founded Open Farm Sunday (www.farmsunday.org). This is a national farm open day which is now organised and run by LEAF. Open Farm Sunday welcomed 320,000 visitors onto 400 farms in the UK this year. Since it began, more than 1.5 million people have visited a farm on Open Farm Sunday.

Ian is Chairman of FACE, Farming and Countryside Education. (www.face-online.org.uk)

Ian helped establish Bright Crop (www.brightcrop.org.uk). He led the brand and web development from what was previously Careers in Food and Farming into what is now Bright Crop, the cross industry initiative encouraging 13-19 year old school children to consider a career in the Agri Food industry. Ian now sits on the steering group for Bright Crop.
“Our mission is to take full advantage of being located close to many towns and cities by giving as many children and adults as possible the opportunity to learn about how and where their food is produced,” he says. “Children will see the importance of farming in the creation and maintenance of habitats and landscapes.”

“We have hosted school visits for many years,” he says. “During that time we have seen firsthand the benefit of children learning in an outdoor environment.”

“Many of the children that visit our farm are spending a day in the countryside for the first time,” he says. “Prior to their visit a large proportion are unaware of the way that their food is produced, the lifecycles and seasons that determine how and what is grown and the importance of a vibrant and healthy countryside.”

Like many family farms Thrales End has adapted and changed to the needs of the market. A traditional mixed farm at the turn of the last century,Walter Pigott farmed longhorn cattle and grew grains to feed his livestock. His son Willie succeeded him just before WW2 continuing to rear cattle, although now choosing Herefords and Angus as his preferred breeds.

John Pigott took over the farm from his father in the 1950’s, and still farms at Thrales End with his son Ian.

Thrales End has been ‘stockless’ since then but has continued to diversify. In 2007 thirty percent of the farm was converted to organic production. Today the farm is no longer organic but instead committed to integrated farming, focusing on growing the best quality grains and oilseeds whilst maintaining a thriving and diverse number of habitats for wildlife.

The farm now commits a considerable amount of time to the reconnection and education of school children and adults with farming and where their food comes from.
In 2015 J.W.Pigott and Son began pioneering a zero tillage trial across the whole farm. Our quest was to improve the soil health of our own farms but Ian Pigott was adamant that our experience should be of value to the rest of the UK farming industry. He approached the director of Rothamsted Research proposing that they connect their scientists with this applied trial. 20 scientists are now working on the trial, benchmarking our cover crop and zero tillage programme, measuring soil fertility, weed ecology, herbicide tolerance, integrated pest management and soil health vial populations of biota and microbes,

The foundation of this research is relevant to the current school curriculum. The findings will be linked with The Farmschool programme and also used by Rothamsted’s education outreach.

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