Grower of the Year Awards - Outstanding contribution to the industry

Winner: Graham Ward OBE

Graham Ward, chief executive, Stockbridge Technology Centre - image: HW
Graham Ward, chief executive, Stockbridge Technology Centre - image: HW

At the end of 2010 it emerged that funding for Educational Access within Natural England's Higher-Level Stewardship scheme was to be cut.

The news sparked huge concern, not least in the laboratories, glasshouses and fields of Stockbridge Technology Centre (STC), as the funding had allowed thousands of children to visit farms. At STC, the funding had been a huge part of an educational programme reconnecting children with where food comes from and in promoting healthy eating.

As chief executive Graham Ward explained to anyone who would listen, the removal of this funding would hamper the Government's aims of getting more people onto farms and eating fresh produce. Showing school children how crops were grown was exactly what was needed to produce this desired behaviour change.

Leading the lobbying both directly to the Government and through national and regional media, Ward hammered home the message. Then in March 2011 came the exciting news that following further consideration, Defra was to reinstate payments for children up to 16.

This is, of course, just the latest in a long line of wins for this outstanding campaigner for the production horticulture industry who gives so much of his time and leadership to a raft of regional, horticultural and rural bodies.

Indeed, 2011 marked a second remarkable achievement - the 10th anniversary of STC, which under Ward's leadership has succeeded in building a commercial technology business from the ashes of the former government-funded HRI research station.

As Ward notes, when STC started, the team had little more than a roof over its head. All the old research station's farm machinery, laboratory and IT kit had gone.

Ten years on and fresh from reinvesting half a million pounds in new facilities and having forged new relationships with numerous research and commercial partners, this independent grower-run centre dedicated to helping individual growers be more profitable, continues to inspire with its ambitious plans.

Also in 2011 Ward successfully established a Yorkshire-based food and farming entrepreneurs network with financial support through Defra/Lantra to help train a new generation of managers for the UK horticulture industry.

- With its mission and culture, Asda has produced a unique "Asda-ness" of which it is very proud. From starting life as a butcher's shop in West Yorkshire, Asda has continued to support farmers and growers throughout the UK. At the Grocer Awards in June 2011 Asda was named Britain's Favourite Supermarket in addition to being voted Britain's Best Value Retailer for the 14th year.

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