A "VISIONARY" who has used the countryside as a way of helping vulnerable members of society has been named Northern Farmer of the Year for 2018.

Denys Fell was named the overall winner after a secret ballot by judges at the glittering annual ceremony held in Harrogate.

These were the fifth annual awards staged by the Northern Farmer magazine, published by Newsquest, owner of The Northern Echo and Darlington & Stockton Times.

Hundreds of leading industry professionals from across the North of England attended the ceremony to toast exceptional individuals and generations of farming families.

The prize-giving took place at the Great Yorkshire Showground at the Pavilions of Harrogate to reward innovation, dedication and talent in agricultural.

Mr Fell was given a standing ovation from his peers as he collected the biggest award of the night after already winning the Outstanding Achievement Award for his work on the Densholme Community Care Farm, in Hull.

Event host Wendy Gibson, former BBC Look North presenter, described Mr Fell as a man with a “heart, vision and big dreams”, using the countryside to help those with mental health problems, drug addictions or learning difficulties."

The judges received the following citation before making their decision:

"Denys Fell farms approximately 270 acres, with a mix of arable and sheep. His main crop is wheat (completely organic) and has up to 200 sheep. He also grows fruit and nut trees, potatoes and cut flowers to supply local florists.

After the foot and mouth crisis, he was asked to host the East Riding Rural Stress Initiative, aimed at helping farmers to reach out if they were struggling with loneliness, isolation and mental health issues. With suicide rates high in the farming community, he was determined to try to do something to help but wasn’t sure what that might be to begin with.

Then, nine years ago, he invited three young men with profound mental health issues, living in a local care home, to come to the farm to plant potatoes. He saw at first-hand how being on a farm could benefit the disabled and those with mental health issues, learning difficulties, or suffering from drug addictions.

It planted the seed for what was to come. Mr Fell went on to launch a separate business from his farm - a community care farm, set up as a social enterprise, which now employs 10 people and looks after 72 students per day. They all have disabilities, mental health issues or learning difficulties. Some come for up to four days a week but it varies, depending on the “personal budgets” allocated to their conditions.

The students don’t have to come – it is not mandatory - but they choose to come and the fact that the community farm is now at full capacity for the number of staff employed shows how successful it is. The students develop friendships, learning new skills and simply enjoy being in the countryside. In addition, Mr Fell sees such initiatives as a way of farmers developing a wider social network to combat isolation."

Upon accepting his award, Mr Fell said: “One of our students who has been coming to us for many years takes particular joy in the compost heap.

“He enjoys it when all the steam starts coming up off the heap, and he says, ‘wow, wow’, and that’s how I’m feeling now.”


Farm Contractor of the Year: Neil Fell, of Nafferton Farm, Brancepeth, near Durham, for designing his own mobile sheep dipping machine inspired by a chip shop’s deep fat fryer.

Farm Manager of the Year: Ben Rab, of Thimbleby Estate, Osmotherley, for his attention to detail to get the right balance between the environment and sustainability.

Sheep Farmers of the Year: The Wise and Chapman families for their business-like approach at the Manor Farm, Stockton.

Young Farmer: Vicky Furlong, of the Crow Hall Estate, Northumberland.

Beef Farmer: Daniel Spours, of the Twizell Farm, Northumberland.