The 2024 Northern Farmer Awards take place tomorrow (Thursday, February 22) and we're profiling the finalists in the build-up up to the big day.

The winners across ten varied categories will be announced at a glittering awards ceremony at Pavilions of Harrogate, the Great Yorkshire Showground.

Also to be revealed on the night will be the overall 2024 Northern Farmer of the Year, chosen by the panel of judges from the category winners.

Family Run Farm of the Year, sponsored by Yorkshire Agricultural Society

The Northern Farmer:

Karl and Mandy Avison, Top Bridge Farm and Cedarbarn Farm Shop, Pickering

Top Bridge farm and Cedarbarn Farm Shop, Café and Miniature Railway, Pickering, is run by Karl Avison, his wife, Mandy, and their family, with Karl dividing himself between the livestock and fruit and veg growing and Mandy overseeing the shop.

The Northern Farmer: Mandy and Karl Avison with General Manager, Alison Riley

The farm was bought and established by Karl’s great- grandparents in 1919 and subsequently farmed by Karl’s grandad, then his father.

The retail business began as a PYO strawberries caravan in 1995 and has grown into a farm shop and 80-seater café. Karl and Mandy’s daughter, Chloe, is set to develop and grow the PYO business.

At Top Bridge there are 120 acres and at the Cedarbarn site a further 28. The arable and livestock sides are share farmed in collaboration with friend and neighbour David Beal and David’s son Sam, enabling them to share the workload and machinery.

There are eight acres of soft fruits, five acres of brassicas and three acres of root crops. Asparagus is one of their specialities. There are 100 fruit trees and two acres of pumpkins, while 50 acres are grass leys with 25 acres of permanent pasture. The rest grows winter and spring beans, winter wheat and winter barley.

The family is very proud of their flagship herd of cattle, which has been certified by the Aberdeen Angus society. There are also 70 Suffolk cross ewes that are crossed to an Abermax tup to produce lambs for their own butchery and for the café.

The farm has 42 full and part-time and seasonal staff, reducing to about 35 over winter.

Sowray family, Brook House Farm, Terrington

Brook House Farm, Terrington, is a mixed farm comprising 450 acres of owned ground and a further 350 acres rented. Two hundred acres grows winter barley, winter wheat and spring barley – around 66 acres of each. There are also about 50 acres of maize and 15 of fodder beet. The remainder is grass used for both grazing and silage making.

The Northern Farmer: The Sowray family, of Brook House Farm, Terrington

With a dairy herd of 160 Holstein cows plus followers, a flock of 800 ewes and a small herd of suckler cows, John and his sons James, 31, and Matt, 29, are kept busy.

Matt wants to further develop the dairy herd, while James is the sheep man and would like to increase the flock size. John is equally happy taking on all tasks, and all three share the tractor work.

At the moment they have about 140 cows in milk with usually around 20 dry and in calf at any one time. They average about 9,500 litres per cow per year with all milk going to Paynes dairies. The cows calve all year round. High yield cows are housed all year with the lower yielding cows and dry/in-calf cows being out during the summer.

Read more: Finalists revealed for 2024 Northern Farmer Awards

The small suckler herd has a base of 14 Saler cows plus their own stock bull. All young stock are fattened on the farm and sold either through a local mart or deadweight. Eight hundred Texel mules and Texel cross ewes are kept on the farm.

Matt has been chairman of the local YFC club for two years and county chairman for one.

The farm has hosted the District Rally for two years and every year hosts local YFC stock judging classes.

Thompson family, Softley Farm, Butterknowle

Showing is very much a hobby for the Thompsons of Softley Farm, Butterknowle, County Durham, alongside a commercial dairy enterprise and the 800 breeding ewe operation in Teesdale where John farms in partnership with his father and brother, Andrew.

The Northern Farmer: The Thompson family, of Softley Farm, Butterknowle

They are assisted by a team of dedicated full and part-time helpers, including John’s wife Angela and daughter Katie, while their son James works with the NFU.

After foot and mouth in 2002 the family restructured the 110-head milking herd and single suckler herd to double cow numbers to 220, sourcing the new herd from Holland as John liked the longevity and wearability of the cattle. The herd descended from the imported cattle now numbers 280 cows, with over 300 followers. It is yielding 10,500kg per lactation on average.

The Northern Farmer: The 2024 Northern farmer Awards take place on February 22

An important element of the business is the sale of both young stock and in-milk surplus animals.

With the milking herd being the farm’s principal income stream, it has always been important for the farm to breed cows suitable for the system. As a tenant at Softley Farm, investment in milking facilities has delivered a return as long as commercially-viable cows are bred.

John says that his stock may not all win red rosettes in the ring, but the type of cow they are, and their breeding, make them desirable cow for many other producers: robust, efficient, low maintenance and capable of component-rich milk over many lactations.