Organised by Pitchfork Events, part of the RAMSAK Group, and the Kent Country Agricultural Society (KCAS), this year’s show witnessed a record breaking number of exhibitors turning out to showcase their latest machinery, products, innovations and services.

Each year South East Farmer is proud to sponsor the Best in Show trade stand competition, with prizes kindly donated by Biddenden Vineyards, celebrating the region’s most dynamic, customer friendly companies and recognises the hard work and planning which goes in to exhibiting at the South East of England’s leading, farmer owned, agricultural business show.

Judging the trade stands this year with, her colleague Tony Burt, HSBC’s relationship director, was Grace O’Dwyer, regional agriculture director at HSBC. Mrs O’Dwyer commended all exhibitors noting that “the competition was, without doubt, very tight” and there were “excellent entrants in each category”.

“We were delighted to accept the invitation to judge the trade stands,” said Grace O’Dwyer, regional agriculture director at HSBC. “It was an opportunity to engage with local and regional businesses who were keen to demonstrate how they add value to their customers and a great chance to hear more about some of the most innovative and dynamic businesses.”

Best machinery stand

Chosen for its “welcoming, proactive approach and focus on saying thank you to all customers”, Claas Southern was awarded the coveted best machinery stand in show award.

“The judges’ comments reflect the essence of what we try to do at Claas Southern,” said Tom Hancock, director at Claas Southern. “It’s great to see that the effort we put in has been recognised.”

This year Claas went “all out” with its stand choosing to only bring and showcase products which were new in some way. From the new Claas Arion tractors, to the new Claas Scorpion telehandlers and the Lexion combine harvester which now include CEMOS automation enabling the combine to decide on the set up based on the crop and how it is being driven.

“A lot of visitors to the stand wanted to look at the tractors and commented on their high specification and build quality,” said Mr Hancock. “The new Arion 650 was certainly something everyone wanted to see and we also had a big Maxim Axion 870 in the tent which drew a lot of attention.”

Agri-Expo also marked the official launch of Claas Southern’s partnership with Abbey Machinery. In a move to add a wider range of machinery to appeal to a wider range of customers, livestock equipment from Abbey, including feeder wagons, vacuum tankers and slurry equipment, will now sit alongside the arable based products from Claas and Horsch.

“We wanted to better service our livestock customers,” said Mr Hancock. “We always look to partner with similar businesses and being a family run business like we are, Abbey’s business approach and ethics are very similar to the Claas ethos.”

Over 2018, Claas Southern will be planning and operating a number of customer events across Kent and Sussex for the Abbey Machinery.

Based on the success of this year, Mr Hancock and his team have already started planning next year’s stand at Agri-Expo and see the show as a key event to catch up with and communicate with a lot of current customers over one day.

Best livestock stand

Demonstrating a “flexible service solution to their customers”, B&W Feeds were awarded the best livestock stand at Agri-Expo with judge Grace O’Dwyer commenting on how happy the team were to “take the time to give insight into their business, the challenges and the opportunities”.

“This was the first year at Agri-Expo where we had an outdoor and an indoor stand,” said Katheryn Thompson technical manager at B&W Feeds. “We always bring a mill lorry to the show because it helps to explain how our home mixing service works and the benefits.”

Servicing the entire South of England, with a satellite base in Detling, Kent, B&W Feeds have a fleet of mobile milling lorries for farmers looking to mix their animal feed products and create a complete blend on the farm.

“We can process cereals and add in other products, such as proteins, if required,” said Mrs Thompson. “For mixed arable and livestock farmers it is a complete circle, they grow the feed and then feed it. They have full control of the ration in their blend and it is more cost effective than selling grain and buying in feed.”

Catering for a range of sectors from pig and poultry, to cattle and sheep, B&W Feeds work with farms of all sizes, from those who need 10 tonnes per week to those who need 50 tonnes per fortnight. Being fully accredited, the team can also provide full support, putting together the nutrition and rations in the same was as any of the other compound mills.

“Agri-Expo is an early show and we often find that we catch people as they are planning their spring sowing,” said Mrs Thompson. “We were very pleased to have won the award. It was a good boost for the team and good too for our driver, Tim Hare, who attended the show. He sees our customers regularly and the show provided an opportunity for him to offer them hospitality and have a catch up.”

Best new innovation

Winner of the best new exhibitor award at Agri-Expo 2017, Steve Pack’s innovation and practical solutions to managing his expanding business has won him this year’s best new innovation in show award. Described by judge Grace O’Dwyer as “a great example of the application of agri-tech solutions in a business context”, Mr Pack “comprehensively explained the journey he had embarked on, the efficiencies he perceived the innovation would provide and the resulting customer benefits”.

The innovation in question was Steve Pack Agricultural Services’ unique, custom made spreader, the trio fertiliser system. After dealing with an increasing number of top fruit growers who were GPS mapping the orchard soil, Steve found he was having to do three separate passes to deliver the required potash, magnesium and phosphate.

“I had two little fertiliser spreaders, but I wanted a way to precisely apply three different products at a variable rate simultaneously,” said Steve Pack, owner of Steve Pack Agricultural Services. “After coming up with the idea I approached a small manufacturing company in Holland who specialise in building fruit equipment for contractors. We designed the trio system and I went back and forth to Holland to have a look at the machine in various stages. It arrived in England two days before the show and we only finished assembling it the day before.”

With business split equally between arable and fruit sectors, with a growing number of vineyard customers too, Steve Pack Agricultural Services provides a complete operation for soil nutrition under one roof. From the GPS soil sampling, to producing the maps and reports, providing the recommendations, delivering the materials, spreading them and then producing records for the farm.

“Agri-Expo is very well-attended by farmers from the region and for me as a contractor I can catch up with customers,” said Mr Pack. “The show is very worthwhile and for us even gaining just one individual customer is very important, especially if they are going to use us regularly. We will be back exhibiting again next year.”

Best inspirational service or supply stand

Winner of the Agri-Expo 2018 best inspirational service or supply stand was Hadlow College. When it came down to selecting the best entrant in this category, judge Grace O’Dwyer said that Hadlow “is a well-respected and dynamic institution” with a real focus on “developing the skills needed for the next generation working in agriculture”.

As well as bringing modern tractors to the show, Hadlow has always tried to use Agri-Expo to showcase the current work being undertaken by the students in the engineering department.

“Winning the award was very unexpected,” said Steve Pike Machinery Lecturer and Engineering Workshop Manager at Hadlow College. “We always attend Agri-Expo and I like to bring a project of some description which the students are working on because it shows what we do. People at Agri-Expo know about the college but not always what the engineering department is up to. We will bring a project from a half built tractor, to an engine the students are rebuilding so they can talk to visitors about what they are doing.”

This year the Hadlow College stand featured a Ferguson P3 tractor which Mr Pike hopes will be completely refurbished in time to feature in the Kent County Show’s heritage section.

As well as being able to talk to visitors about the practical coursework, Agri-Expo also enables Hadlow students to network with dealers and other businesses in the industry to talk about the work going on at the college as well as work experience opportunities after graduating.

Read about the Agri-Expo headline seminar