Article •  11/12/2023

LEAF network helping to spark regen ideas on Resilient & Ready farms

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On paper, there are few similarities between a 300ha arable farm with a busy wedding venue diversification in Essex, and an 850ha mixed dairy, beef and arable business in north Wiltshire.

Yet for the farmers at the two sites – siblings Bryony and Archie Graham, and husband and wife team Nick and Lucy Tyler – an obvious shared goal exists; to use the principles of integrated farm management to create a profitable, sustainable system to stand the test of time.

They were selected as the second cohort to embark on the three-year Resilient & Ready programme in January 2023.

The initiative – a partnership between Corteva Agriscience and LEAF – is already sparking new ideas and actions.

“We applied because we’re going through a generational shift knowing we need to do something different,” Bryony said. “So far Resilient & Ready has really solidified the need for change.

“Our dad (Robert) is so full of knowledge, while Archie and I regard ourselves as new entrants so we’re looking for all the advice, contacts and ideas we can get.”

The Grahams have been at Lodge Farm for over 100 years. Situated in Nazeing, just north of Greater London, they grow wheat, barley and oats on clay soils – and it’s this heavy land which causes them the most headaches.

Bryony said: “The soil organic matter is in good shape, even on the heaviest land, but it simply can’t tolerate a month’s rain in 24 hours, which is what the overall pattern has been for three years in a row. So something has to change.

“As part of our Countryside Stewardship agreement we have planted about nine hectares of wildflowers, but the ground got swamped by water and it’s likely that it won’t establish.  We’ll take a financial hit from this sort of thing, so we’re learning quickly that we can’t just rely on external funding.”

Instead, they are looking at short rotation coppice of willow and miscanthus on their heavier land, and introducing livestock into the arable rotation.

Planting decisions will be aided by nutrient mapping, and with the help of LEAF consultant Andy Guy, they will also continue to see what the Sustainable Farming Review delivers for them.

About 120 miles away in Wiltshire, farming at a larger scale doesn’t make things easier for the Tylers.

But they are equally excited to evolve their farm since joining Resilient & Ready.

“We’ve really enjoyed participating in the programme so far,” Nick said. “The honesty and the frankness of the people we have met along the way has been the biggest help.”

Maximising home-grown proteins to reduce their reliance on bought-in feeds, using organic fertiliser efficiently to reduce their use of synthetic fertiliser, and increasing public engagement are at the top of the Tylers’ agenda.

Through the programme they met Germinal Seeds which has led to a decision to sow more herbal lays, and stitch red and white clover into existing fields to increase the protein content of the silage it will eventually produce.

“Increasing our home-grown protein will help us to reduce our carbon footprint,” Nick adds.

There have been big changes on the arable side of the business, with new agronomists appointed.

“We’re excited to be working with our new agronomists and approaching the arable side of our business from a more scientific point of view,” Lucy said.

Soil testing through Frontier’s SOYL service is providing a clear picture of the baseline values of each field. This will enable Kingsplay Farming to apply all fertilisers at variable rates.

Lucy said: “We believe smart integration is essential to our business. We want to see what the dairy, beef and arable enterprises can do for each other, rather than viewing them as separate entities.”

An Open Farm Sunday event in June was a first for the farm and generated brilliant feedback from the village.

The pair have always been keen on public engagement and have recently been successful with a FiPL grant application to part-fund a countryside people carrier – which doubles as a mobile classroom – enabling them to increase their public engagement, especially with local schools.

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The Grahams

Bryony and Archie Graham, J E Graham - read more here

The Tylers

Nick and Lucy Tyler, Kingsplay Farming - read more here