For farmers Ben Lowe and Harriet Ross in Aberdeenshire, the Resilient & Ready programme marks a period of dramatic change for the couple.
They were selected to take part in the programme having just taken over a three-year tenancy at Newseat of Dumbreck Farm, realising a lifelong dream of Ben’s to farm for himself.
Fast forward three years and their business has grown significantly, with the tenancy being extended to 10 years and launching as a LEAF Demonstration Farm. Not content with succeeding the family farm nearby and doubling the overall acreage, Harriet was also named Farmers Weekly’s Young Farmer of the Year in 2021. In the same year, the pair bought a 450-sow pig farm with a further 200 acres of arable land, with a new goal of using the pigs to make the arable business more sustainable and vice versa.
Ben and Harriet embraced the access to experts afforded to them by the programme and started work with Ian Robertson of Sustainable Soil Management.
They were also given access to innovative new products from Corteva Agriscience, such as Instinct – a nitrogen stabilising product which locks nitrates into the soil overhauling their approach to applications in the process.
Ben said: “We applied the same amount of nitrogen to two fields. We're looking for a high nitrogen barley crop which delivers yield and quality, so, there was a premium to be had.
“We've had a change to the business in that we now have a huge amount of farmyard manure and slurries. Anything that makes our applications more precise and holds on to nutrients is a big benefit.”
The couple also dedicated 87 acres to an agri-environment scheme, encompassing winter stubble retention, wild bird seed and buffer strips.
“We managed to get a small environmental scheme for this year and it's basically been taking the poor bits of the farm and giving them back to nature, while still returning some value,” Ben says. “We've just applied for another big environmental scheme across the other farms in 2023 so we’ll see whether we get approval.”
Working with Tamsin Morris, Consultant at Walking The Talk, Ben and Harriet also learned more about different landscapes and how they benefit nature.
“We want to work alongside everything that's been a part of the farm forever,” Ben says. “We don't want to negatively impact that. Our understanding on where to look has improved hugely.
“One of the species we've got is water vole. I quite like a stream with some trees round about it but water voles don't like that so, now we can actually go down and understand what different kinds of landscapes look like and what they're benefiting. There's a good reason why we've now got a grass buffer strip alongside of the water.”
Joining the Resilient & Ready programme in 2019, Ben and Harriet said their main aim was to close the loop on the farm. Although an admirable goal, it has coincided with a crisis in the pig industry supply chain, with large numbers of pigs backing up on farms due to labour shortages.
Ben said: “Of course, because pigs haven't made money for 10 months, it has made it very difficult. But a lot of the products that we're producing on the arable side are traded or sold to the pig enterprise and a lot of the pig by-products go back into the arable business and it works very well that way. What we need is for pigs to make money and cereal cropping to make money, so they look after each other.”
Ben believes the programme has given Harriet and himself new connections that they will continue to utilise going forward.
“The big thing was that it brought new people onto the farm with new ideas and opportunities to just be able to chat over things that we've been doing and what we've learned.
“We're now focused on justifying everything that we do on the farm and understanding why we're doing it. It's built a good foundation.”
With work underway to recruit a new cohort of Resilient & Ready farmers next year, Ben’s message is a simple one.
“Definitely put yourself out there and ask the awkward questions would be my advice. We’ve made some big investments because what we’re trying to do is invest for the long term and in farming, many policies are applicable for four to five years, but sometimes you have to back yourself and aim for the years ahead.”