An innovative programme designed to help farmers find a more sustainable future has concluded with environmental charity LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming) gaining three new Demonstration Farms.
Resilient & Ready was devised by Corteva Agriscience, offering a mix of practical training, CPD, networking, and access to industry experts and new products. LEAF has delivered the programme on behalf of the crop chemistry and seed brand over the past three years.
Four farms were selected in 2019 – two in Aberdeenshire, two in central-southern England – and each has made significant progress in becoming fitter for the future.
Corteva says the impact and reach of the Resilient & Ready programme has exceeded all expectations and that recruitment for a second cohort of farmers will begin shortly.
Giles Field-Rayner, the company’s Business Development Manager, said: “The four farms are all very different but shared a common curiosity about finding a better way forward. I don’t think anyone anticipated the scale or pace of change that we’ve witnessed. It has been inspiring to watch.”
Closing the loop – HB Farms, Pitmillan, Aberdeenshire
Ben Lowe and Harriet Ross were new entrants in 2019, taking on 46-hectare Newseat of Dumbreck on a three-year tenancy.
But their business is almost unrecognisable from the day they applied to be part of the Resilient & Ready programme.
The pair completed a succession on Harriet’s family’s arable farm nearby to more than double their farmed acreage, and last year purchased a 450-sow pig unit plus a further 80ha of land.
Ben says their goal has always been to “close the loop”; becoming more self-sustaining by using the cropping land to feed livestock and using the slurry from the system to reduce their reliance on inputs.
“Of course, because pigs haven't made money for 10 months, it has made it very difficult,” he said.
“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 them 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,” he said.
“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.”
HB Farms became LEAF’s most northerly Demonstration Farm in July, marking the occasion with a tree planting and a farm walk. You can watch a recording of the event online here.
Granular details – CJ Grant, Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire
Craig and Claire Grant identified two key goals at the beginning of their journey; reducing fuel and fertiliser use, and displacing imported soya from their hen ration.
With such a busy, diverse operation involving 160,000 laying hens, 200 head of beef cattle, and combinable crops, change was always going to be gradual, but the couple have made remarkable progress.
“To reduce soya, we planted 10 acres of beans and we put two flocks of birds on to our home-grown pulse diet,” Claire said. “Doing that reduced the amount of soya we were using for feed by half.
“Although we’re still using soya to get the protein content, at today’s price of £450 a tonne it means we’re still saving by reducing our reliance.”
Their ambitious goal is to cut the amount of soya used across the whole flock by 50% in the next 2-4 years by collaborating with local farmers.
On top of the financial saving from the diet change, Craig and Claire have reduced their need for bought-in fertiliser.
“When we sow our beans, we’re only using farmyard manure, and only one spray is being applied to it as well.
“It works as a break crop and allows us to get wheat in, which we can grow to feed to the poultry. It has also increased the acres available to us to grow wheat..”
The Grants have also mapped the carbon footprint of an individual egg produced on their farm to deliver a future marketing advantage for their product.
They are currently considering becoming a LEAF Demonstration Farm.
Big decisions on a large scale – Nick Down, Yattendon Estate, Berkshire
Farming the largest area of all the enterprises on the Resilient & Ready programme, Nick Down had the opportunity to try new approaches at different scales.
Yattendon is a diverse farming enterprise covering 3,200ha, growing wheat, barley, beans, linseed, oats and maize. ‘Responsible English farming’ is the ethos underpinning the entire business.
Farm manager Nick was already contemplating the changes he felt the estate needed to make, but says that the experts and wider network he encountered helped accelerate his decision making and allowed him to share experiences with a wide pool of people.
Perhaps the most significant change he made was to take 300ha out of crop production and into a five-year Countryside Stewardship in 2021. As a result, he was also able to reduce the estate’s machinery fleet.
“We all knew the industry was at a crossroads and my response has been to focus in on the areas of the business that we perhaps weren’t looking at so much before,” Nick said.
Nick has a keen interest in soil health, and now varies his cultivations according to what the land allows.
He said: “The soils have a high stone content and are very abrasive. Whatever you do to them can be detrimental as well as positive. The soil testing we have done as part of the programme has given us a greater understanding of soil carbon and how what we do affects it.”
The work of the four farms on the programme attracted attention from DEFRA, and Nick has been able to host staff from Westminster offices to show them what a regenerative farming system looks like in practice.
New ideas – Andy Bason, Newhouse Farm, Alresford, Hampshire
As a former AHDB Monitor Farm, Andy said he wanted to join the programme to reinstate the interaction and engagement he got from hosting events and touring other businesses.
He has confidently pushed forward with ideas that enthused him and his team while also taking on more farmland.
Amid the business expansion he has taken his first steps into agroforestry, and set out a large tree-planting project to act as a carbon store for the farm.
The farm has hosted LEAF Open Farm Sunday and pumpkin-picking events, and Newhouse has forged a partnership with two local mills, supplying them with wheat for a low-food-miles flour.
Andy said: “Building resilience and taking an integrated farming approach has always been a big focus for the business. Being part of the Resilient & Ready programme has been an amazing opportunity to learn from other farmers and gain expert insight to help us harness the power of novel research and technology in crop management.
“Progressing onto becoming a LEAF Demonstration Farm is the next big step and being able to use and better understand science-based evidence will be so important for engaging with both industry and the public.”