Environment champion James Smith, who runs Loddington Farm, near Maidstone, was named Kent Farmer of the Year at the prestigious Taste of Kent Awards in May.

Judges praised the transformation at Loddington Farm since James, who no longer uses synthetic fertilisers or herbicides and is phasing out fungicides and insecticides, introduced his new approach after a 2016 Nuffield Scholarship allowed him to travel widely and investigate new ways of growing fruit profitably.

He had become disillusioned with fruit growing in the UK because of concerns over the huge financial risks and the impact of chemicals on people’s health, but now runs a successful operation using his extensive knowledge and experience of working with nature rather than chemistry.

According to the Loddington Farm website, in 2020 in one orchard he spent more money on books than agrochemicals in his quest to grow chemical-free food.

Runner up in the Farmer of the Year category, sponsored by BTF Partnership, was Nonington Farm, Goodnestone, with G L Boulden & Sons, Romney Marsh, Highly Commended.

The annual awards, staged by Produced in Kent, brought together some of the finest producers, farmers, retailers and hospitality businesses in the county for a celebration of the best in the Garden of England.

The glitzy flagship event, held in person for the first time since 2020, was staged at the Kent Event Centre, with around 400 guests enjoying a three-course meal created by The Curious Eatery and featuring Kent wines, cheeses from The Cheesemakers of Canterbury and Kingcott Dairy and ice cream from Solley’s.

Provenance Potatoes, based near Deal, took home the Kent Food and Drink Business Award after being recognised for linking local farms and using innovative solutions to reduce their carbon footprint.

Floortje Hoette, Chief Executive of Produced in Kent, applauded the very high standard of this year’s finalists. “The judges and I were blown away by the exceptional quality of food and drink we have here in Kent, and it’s wonderful to see the support for buying local hasn’t faded post-pandemic,” she said.

Of the finalists, she said: “They have shown innovation, diversification, sustainable practices and immense talent within their specialist fields. It makes me enormously proud to spotlight these Kent businesses.”

South East Farmer was one of a number of sponsors supporting the event, with our own fruit industry correspondent Sarah Calcutt on hand to present the prizes in a number of categories that were judged at the National Fruit Show last October.

Fruit category winners for 2021 were:

Kent’s Tastiest Apple
Winner: Elverton Farms Ltd, Faversham
Product: Gala

Kent’s Tastiest Pear
Winner: B Piper Partnership, Maidstone
Product: Concorde

Kent’s Tastiest Cherry
Winner: A C Hulme & Sons, Canterbury
Product: Penny variety

Kent’s Tastiest Raspberry
Winner: R C Boucher & Sons, Sittingbourne
Product: Driscoll’s Zara variety

Kent’s Tastiest Strawberry
Winner: John Myatt & Co, Rochester
Product: Nobility variety

(Fruit prizes sponsored by South East Farmer)

Other farming-related prizes included:

Kent Wine of the Year
Winner: Balfour Winery, Staplehurst
Product: Balfour Brut Rosé
(Sponsored by Furley Page and NFU Mutual Ashford, Tenterden & Whitfield)

Kent Dairy Product of the Year
Winner: Kingcott Dairy, Staplehurst
Product: Kentish Blue
(Sponsored by: BTF Partnership)

Kent Non-Alcoholic Drink of the Year
Winner: Biddenden Vineyards, Biddenden
Product: Sparkling Apple Juice
(Sponsored by: Barretts)

Kent Beer of the Year
Winner: Cellar Head Brewing Company, Tunbridge Wells
Product: Session Pale Ale
(Sponsored by: NFU Mutual Ashford, Tenterden & Whitfield)

Kent Cider of the Year
Winner: Turners Cider, Marden
Product: Apple Pie Cider
(Sponsored by: A C Goatham & Sons)

Kent Ambient Product of the Year
Winner: Bray’s Bees, Ditton, Aylesford
Product: Honey
(Sponsored by: Crowe UK)