Lewis Steer, who sells boxes of gourmet lamb from his rare breed sheep as The Dartmoor Shepherd, has been named at the Three Counties Farming Conference as the UK's Young Agricultural Entrepreneur of the Year in a close-fought contest backed by Three Counties, Harrison Clark Rickerbys and Bruton Knowles, as well as agricultural innovation experts Agrii.
The award, launched last year at the Royal Three Counties Show, aims to acknowledge the hard work, dedication, and innovative thinking of young agricultural entrepreneurs - four were shortlisted and judges Jess Vaughan (Jess's Ladies Organic Milk) and last year's winner Joe Evans (Green Cow Kitchens) made the tough decision on the winner.
The finalists included both traditional and innovative rural enterprises - James Manning's Shack Revolution has built a bar events business, including a successful permanent venue in Hereford, on farming foundations, and Hayley Hanson, of Hayley Hanson Hides, based near Hay on Wye, has focused on traditional tanning techniques to create the UK's only tannery dealing exclusively with bovine hides. Charlie Beldam of Cotswold Gold, based in Broadway, Worcestershire, has taken rapeseed oil to new heights, with high-quality products and a focus on supporting smaller producers.
All the finalists shared an adherence to local produce and local employment, using local resources of all kinds in the development of their businesses, bringing benefits to their own communities as well as to their own businesses.
Lewis, aged 21, set up The Dartmoor Shepherd in the summer, to sell meat from his flock of Greyface Dartmoor, Whiteface Dartmoor and Devon and Cornwall Longwool sheep. The company also sells sheepskins.
A partner in Lily Warne Wool with his mother Paula, Lewis has already received awards for his entrepreneurship - he won a Rural Business Award in two categories last year - Best Business Start-up and Champion of Champions, with his mother.
He said: "I am delighted to have won this award - I have always wanted to put Dartmoor farming on the map while adding value to every aspect of my own business. The award will mean that I can take my lamb to shows and festivals, extending the business even further."
Mary Wathen, head of the Agricultural and Rural Affairs team at Harrison Clark Rickerbys, and one of the driving forces behind the award, said: "This award recognises young people and young businesses in agriculture, with all the hard work and innovation involved. These young people and businesses are amazing - if we continue to promote and support people like them, the industry will continue to thrive and develop."
"I am delighted for Lewis; not only does he receive £3,000 to invest in the business, but I hope that he has also made many new contacts and developed new business relationships because of the award - something which will stand him in good stead as his business goes forward."
Ken Nottage, CEO at the Three Counties Agricultural Society, said: "It has been incredibly rewarding to see the number of applicants for the Young Agricultural Entrepreneur Award 2016. Here at Three Counties, we pride ourselves on supporting educational initiatives and it is great to see the prize money going to Lewis Steer; we look forward to seeing how his business benefits from winning the award."
Sarah Wilkinson from Agrii said: "We are delighted to be sponsoring and presenting this highly regarded award to such a worthy winner and our congratulations go to Mr Steer. The judges really had their work cut out in choosing between these enthusiastic, highly motivated and knowledgeable young people, and we are pleased to be involved in recognising these individuals. Congratulations to all of the finalists this year."
Harrison Clark Rickerbys has 400 staff and partners based at offices in Worcester, Hereford, the Wye Valley, Cheltenham, Birmingham and the Thames Valley, who provide a complete spectrum of legal services to both business and private clients, regionally and nationwide. The firm also has a number of highly successful teams specialising in individual market sectors, including health and social care, education, agricultural and rural affairs, defence, security and the forces, advanced manufacturing and construction.