Tag: Events

Soil Farmer of the Year 2023 – Farm Walk with Richard Anthony 

Written by Tilly Kimble-Wilde, Farm Carbon and Soil Advisor

Richard Anthony, of R & L Anthony near Bridgend, was awarded Second Place in the 2023 Soil Farmer of the Year competition. He was commended on how he responded to and managed challenges, never veering from thinking holistically, always upholding soil health as a priority, and treating each challenge as something from which to learn.

A majority arable business, Richard farms a 6-year rotation of wheat, maize, oilseed rape and westerwolds intermixed with a diverse array of cover and companion crops which he is passionate about. “The emphasis on farm is the soil, improving the soil and organic matter, and keeping a crop in the ground; keeping the soil biology alive.”

Richard and the team also strive to promote and create habitats for wildlife: planting wild bird seed mixes, establishing wildlife corridors, and bordering all hedgerows with a 3m margin to encourage growth year on year. 2m flower margins have also been implemented around all fields of oilseed rape which has been, to quote, “absolutely fantastic.” Encouraging insects and bees and getting the public on side too.

The farm walk itself took place on 23rd November 2023 and kicked off with a presentation taking us through the past year and outlining the various activities and obstacles the farm faced. We were then treated to a fantastic farm walk whereby Richard gave our group of visiting farmers, agronomists, and advisors a tour of some of what they get up to across their extensive arable and forage business.

A big part of what Richard and his team are trying to achieve across the farming business is to use very little bagged fertiliser. Most of the nutrients applied to the soil come from digestate, conveniently stored in the farm’s digestate lagoon. Tankers come in and fill alligator bags for easy transport and the digestate is spread on wheat, oilseed rape and maize.

So far, Richard has managed to eradicate artificial fertiliser when growing maize and OSR; however, wheat still receives a small amount of early application. This wouldn’t have been possible without the construction of the digestate lagoon, a project which was undertaken at the beginning of last year. Still, as Richard says, there is room for improvement. The farm is looking to reduce its N inputs even further by trialling an N inhibitor, all to build more resilience into the system.

This mindset has been applied to fungicides.  To use less, Richard has changed the sprayer to accommodate the wet and windy weather brought in from the coast. Now at 250cm spacing, the booms can run very low resulting in no drift even if it’s windy. This enables more spray days and a better chance at getting the timeliness right.

As with most farms across the UK, the weather has been the biggest challenge with dry weather in May and June, and then rain as soon as harvest began.

Luckily, Richard had installed a biomass boiler 6-7 years ago for grain drying after a very wet harvest having heard about them in Scotland. It has been a game changer. Their 1-megawatt biomass boiler provides a lot more spare heat than previous methods of grain drying where they used up to 1.2 megawatts of gas on one drying floor. In the old system, if they were on 25% moisture, it took 10 days to dry one side. With the biomass boiler on woodchip, they can dry 2 drying bays, double the output, and never have to run the boiler flat out. With the right combine (Richard uses a MacDon belt header), the corn is cut as soon as it gets to 25% and achieves good output, as Richard emphasises “do not wait”.

Planting OSR in August was a struggle, with some fields too wet to put a tine in and any cultivation out of the question. Instead, Richard planted the wet parts of the field by snipping the OSR with a sprinter drill and planting the dry parts with a farm standard drill and a top down.

To better manage the unpredictable weather, Richard has a selection of drills that he’s held onto rather than sell. The farm will run 2, sometimes 3 drills if they can, capitalising on days when they have the right weather. This was especially helpful during autumn when the farm received 295mm of rain in October alone.

The farm also spends a lot of time on drainage. Ditches are cleaned, dug out, drains put in; all with the aim of evening out patches in fields and making the farm more resilient. As Richard says, it’s great getting 16t/ha on wheat in a bit of field but if you’re only getting 3t/ha in another part because it’s too wet there is space to do better.

Still, the most used bit of kit on the farm is a spade.  By continually monitoring and assessing soil structure, Richard can make a well-informed decision when determining how to establish the next crop.

Farm Walk

During the farm walk, we were shown multiple cover crop and companion crop trials that were taking place on the farm. Steve Corbett from Agrii has worked with Richard for many years, trialling different varieties and combinations, highlighting the importance in being selective. You need good establishment, and it must earn its keep.

What they have found is that OSR, a “lazy rooting brassica”, completely lends itself to companion cropping, in this case with beans, spring vetch and buckwheat. Beans help to get the roots down as well as provide free nitrogen through nodulation. Spring vetch as opposed to winter vetch grows quickly providing biomass and N fixation. Buckwheat adds to the canopy, slowing down flea beetle, making it more difficult for pigeons to land, as well as mining phosphates. When the companion crops die, all the fixed nitrogen and phosphates will be released back into the soil ready for the next crop.

Richard deliberately plants OSR at low seed rates to encourage big branchy plants in spring which will grow away, allowing light through the canopy. By choosing thicker and well-branched OSR types, flea beetle is more contained, damaging only the outer leaves, leaving the middle to branch out. In Richard’s experience it provides a plant that will survive despite a pest living within it.

In terms of cultivation, Richard is a big fan of direct drilling. When direct drilling wheat, he believes it is important to see what is happening underground: what is the root depth? Taking stock of root depth and maintaining that attention to detail during crop growth is essential to determine the next steps in terms of cultivation. At Sealands farm, root depth is critical to survive the winds, Richard has found through monitoring that cultivation disrupts root growth, and that direct drilling fits his system best.

Ultimately, Richard has tried a lot which didn’t work out, but he’s kept at it. One outcome which has surprised him the most was the success of forage rye which he believes is underestimated. In the field, Richard showed us the root mass it was building and the excellent soil structure it yielded. This has provided Richard with an extra income stream, either taken for silage or grazed (ensuring to move stock on in wet conditions to avoid undoing all the good work he’s built up!).

Looking to improve the soil structure even further, Richard planted the forage rye together with westerwolds. He found that they were able to harvest the westerwolds a fortnight earlier due to the ability of the forage rye to get away in the spring creating its own microclimate which Richard believes benefitted the westerwolds.

Finally, we heard about Richard’s problem with persistent perennial ryegrass. In this instance, he introduced an annual ryegrass to outcompete the perennial. “Putting in a bully to outcompete a bully”. It worked and Richard is now able to include it within the arable rotation without generating a loss. This allows a rest period within the rotation to build fertility, stabilise soil structure and generate a bit of extra cash from silage or grazing. Essentially, Richard is maintaining the balance of farming resiliently: optimising soil health and crop yields while sustaining a viable business.

As we’ve all come to realise, we can’t rely on the weather, however, prioritising soil health as perfectly exemplified by Richard, can better equip us to respond and adapt. When we get to know our soils, monitoring how they behave in certain conditions and how they respond to our actions, we are better prepared and forearmed to make decisions that will affect future harvests and pocket.

Through trials and problem solving, Richard together with Steve have implemented more diversity and reduced inputs without damaging profits. A big resistance to straying from our well-known and “safe” rotations is often down to “how will it pay for itself”. Richard and Steve have shown that they’re not radical in their rationale for cover and companion crops, the bottom line is it has to pay. The most exciting take home from the day is they didn’t give up: they’ve found the right species to incorporate, the soil health on farm is improving and crop yields are directly benefiting. It was a truly inspiring day and a masterclass in perseverance. Richard hasn’t made it look easy by any stretch but as he puts it “we’re just learning all the time.”

You can read the full report here.

Farm Net Zero at Oxford Real Farming Conference 2024

An intrepid band of Farm Net Zero farmers and project staff made their way to Oxford for the Real Farming Conference where we were presenting a session called “It Takes a Farm Community to be Net Zero: A Case Study from Cornwall”. This was a sell-out, with people queuing to get in, and helped to demonstrate the excellent work the FNZ farmers are doing as part of their communities. The film we produced was well-received, even earning a “whoop” from the crowd! It is available to watch here: https://farmcarbontoolkit.org.uk/2024/01/18/five-farms-in-cornwall/

As well as the impressive range of sessions we were able to attend (covering everything from the role of vets in ecological sustainability to farm succession planning), we watched the premiere of “Six Inches of Soil” – a new film about farming starring Farm Net Zero monitor farmer Ben Thomas and featuring Farm Net Zero’s own Hannah Jones.

Premiere of “Six Inches of Soil”

Farm Walk with Carbon Farmer of the Year Finalist, Thomas Gent, Oakley Farm – 23rd May 2024

We are delighted to be able to invite you to attend this Farm Walk to hear from the team at Oakley Farm about how they run their arable farm following regenerative agriculture principles.

Farming with greenhouse gas emissions in mind, as well as all the other targets farmers work to, is fast becoming the norm.

Oakley Farm in South Lincolnshire has been in the Gent family for four generations. Now with father and son team Edward and Thomas managing the 800 ha business, they run their arable farm following regenerative agriculture principles.

Having already fully adopted minimal cultivations and the incorporation of cover crops across the farm, the team are now turning their attention to the potential to incorporate agroforestry and livestock onto their holding. Through continuously refining the management system Edward and Thomas have managed to produce 10 tonne/ha wheat crops with 150kg N and 30 litres diesel per hectare.

Event details

Location to meet/congregate : https://maps.app.goo.gl/UhwiPfPmZQYmCD8i6

What3Word: ///crank.frantic.rules

The farm walk will begin at 1.30pm and will provide an opportunity to find out more about Edward and Thomas’s strategy to reduce emissions on the farm and how this has benefited the business, leading Thomas to be named as one of FCT’s finalists in our first Carbon Farmer of the Year Competition.

The event will take place outside, please wear suitable clothing and footwear. Light refreshments will be provided.

How to book

This event is free but spaces are limited. Please book via our Eventbrite page by following this link

Farm Walk with Carbon Farmer of the Year Finalist, Craig Livingstone, Lockerley Estate, Hampshire – 14th May 2024

We are delighted to be able to invite you to attend this Farm Walk to hear from the team at Lockerley Estate about how they are working to reduce farm-based emissions whilst storing more carbon into soils and non-crop biomass.

Increasingly farming with greenhouse gas emissions in mind, as well as all the other targets farmers work to, is becoming the norm.

Lockerley Estate & Preston Farms, based near Stockbridge in Hampshire is a 2,000ha diverse estate which champions an approach to agriculture where biodiversity, soil health and the wellbeing of the community and future generations is at the heart of everything they do.

Craig Livingstone, Director of Farming & Estates, has four key aims to enable the estate to reduce emissions which are focussed on maximising soil carbon sequestration; reducing reliance on chemical inputs; using the wider estate to sequester more carbon and increasing the natural capital on the estate.

Event details

The farm walk will begin at 1.30pm and will provide an opportunity to find out more about Craig’s strategy to reduce emissions from the estate and how this has benefited the business, leading him to be named as one of FCT’s finalists in our first Carbon Farmer of the Year Competition.

The event will take place outside, please wear suitable clothing and footwear. Light refreshments will be provided.

How to book

This event is free but spaces are limited. Please book via our Eventbrite page by following this link.

Getting started with foliar feeding – with Tim Parton and Nick Woodyatt

Thursday 11th January 10 – 2pm, Trewidland Village Hall (with an opportunity to go to Anthony Ellis’s farm Pensipple if the weather permits).

Tim Parton is a world-renowned regenerative farmer and Nick Woodyatt is a soil health consultant with a wealth of experience. This meeting will focus on the finer details of how you can get started with foliar feeding to improve yields, soil health, and reduce input costs.

This event follows the meeting on Wednesday the 10th at Chapman’s Well and will focus on the practicalities of foliar feeding.

Please meet at the village hall PL14 4ST: (What3Words///headset.producing.tasters)

Lunch will be provided, so booking is essential.

To book your place, contact Hannah Jones ([email protected]), Alex Bebbington ([email protected]) or James Harbord ([email protected])

Soil Farmer of the Year 2023 – Farm Walk with Bronagh O’Kane

Written by Emma Adams on behalf of The Farm Carbon Toolkit

In a first for the Soil Farmer of the Year competition, in October 2023 our series of farm walks took place in Northern Ireland. A group of farmers, academics and industry professionals met at Drumard Farm, just outside Cookstown in County Tyrone, to hear from Bronagh O’Kane on how she is transforming her farming business with resilient soil at its heart.

Bronagh introducing the farm to the group

Having come back to the farm in 2020, Bronagh began a journey to transform the soil. Historically the farm supported continental cattle breeds with a high reliance on imported feed, Bronagh has transitioned this system to more traditional breeds managed on herbal leys and ever-increasing diversity grasslands. Utilising a rotational paddock system she has extended the grazing period so that cattle can be out by 4 weeks and soils are more resilient to the extremes of dry and wet weather. Bronagh has started producing vermicast and composting to improve soil biology; focusing on natural inputs and a softer approach with foliar fertilisers where needed to manage historically compact and imbalanced soils. The walk will provide the opportunity to discuss and demonstrate the practices undertaken at the farm and the ongoing challenges and successes that Bronagh sees in her system.

The beginning of the farm walk

At Drumard Farm, Bronagh was told she had poor soils and no doubt they are a challenge, with testing suggesting an average of 45% silt and 45% clay they are tight and sticky, with little aggregation or infiltration. As such, understanding what was needed for the soil to function better was a priority for Bronagh, with a great deal of research it was understood that the high magnesium, bacterially dominant soils were being held back by a mineral imbalance, compaction from big tractors and heavy cows. 

Inspecting the soil condition following the autumn rain

Changing the livestock system at the farm has been central to Bronagh’s evolving management. The cattle business has been streamlined, and as such the previous finishing and store systems have been stopped instead to focus on a suckler system with pedigree Charollais sheep. The sheep are high value stock, as Bronagh suggests there isn’t the acreage for a larger flock, instead, she buys in September before selling the ewes with lambs at foot in the spring and runs the rest of the flock throughout the year. This system works well as there is the housing space available over winter and also the sheep provide a good opportunity to clean up the last of the grass when it is too wet for the cattle to graze. Previously the farm also had Charolais cattle, but these have been restocked, reducing numbers from around 80 to 50 on a sucker system focussing on more native breeds such as Speckle Park, Shorthorn and Hereford crosses with an Angus Bull. Even with these changes, Bronagh found that those animals with a Limousin cross within the breeding still comparatively lost condition on the new system which is thought to be from underlying epigenetic traits. This has led Bronagh to source more local Shorthorn heifers which are better adapted to a grass-based system. 

Bronagh utilises plant diversity as an indicator of the status of the soil. The species that may dominate in a field or area can suggest what the underlying composition may be – chickweed for excess nitrogen, low calcium or high potassium or creeping buttercup thrives where there has been poaching, bare soil and a low pH. Like many farms, docks have historically been widespread at the farm, often indicating compaction and an anaerobic soil environment. Bronagh’s approach to dock management is to change what has historically not been working – sprays and topping – and instead let them grow and allow the dock beetle to get to work combined with a cut for silage around June. This understanding of what the plants are indicating has led Bronagh to stop spraying and minimising fertiliser use to zero, instead focusing on balancing the soil and improving the health of the biome. She explains:

“Biodiversity, long rest periods and grazing management can change soils – you’re not stuck with what you have”

Grassland management is central to how the business is now run. Bronagh has diversified existing grasslands into multi-species swards despite the testing conditions and low pH of the farm. On the walk, the group visited a newly established herbal ley that had been planted in a field that was pH 5.8.  

The newly established multi-species herbal ley

The 15-way mix contained species such as sainfoin, plantain and chicory and Bronagh has subsequently experimented with both cutting and grazing, which has led to discussions with contractors on cutting heights, timings and more to best maintain the sward. For Bronagh, managing these lays to allow the full diversity is important, with the understorey plants encouraged through the aforementioned considerations in combination with the paddock grazing system. Bronagh has experimented with the paddock grazing timings and methods, including grazing the cows on knee-high swards which resulted in moving them faster but increasing the size of the paddock as the cows were found to be trampling rather than eating following heavy rain. Bronagh suggests:

The definition of overgrazing is letting them get that second bite – it is so important for my fragile, shallow roots to rest”

In addition to the home farm, Bronagh also has a 30ac National Trust tenancy on a zero-input system supporting both a rotational grazing and cutting platform. For Bronagh, having the right livestock that will thrive on a grass based system is key to success. As such, she puts the heifers on the poorest fields to determine which animals will be kept as some breeding is adapted better to the system than others. 

The walk also incorporated learning more about how Bronagh is using vermicast to provide nutrition and balance to her soils. Vermicast, or worm castings is made by using worms to compost organic amendments such as farmyard manure, food waste, wood chip etc to create a soil conditioning fertiliser.

Worm farm whereby organic materials are broken
down to create the vermicast

On the farm, vermicast is used to provide nutrients, stabilise pH and also as a coating on any new seed that is established. Bronagh applies her vermicast through a sprayer after making a ‘compost tea’. The vermicast is added to a porous ‘tea bag’ within an IBC filled with water which is then agitated and aerated using a bubbler to extract the nutrients and beneficial organisms which vermicast contains, the resulting liquid is then applied to land to stimulate soil biology and provide nutrients. Bronagh is aiming for a 1:1 ratio of fungi to bacteria which the vermicast and good soil management will help promote.

Bronagh explains the process of using vermicast
to make a compost tea

Regularly conducting Brix testing has allowed Bronagh to understand how to best apply the vermicast and the benefit it is having to her land, with fields which have had no fertiliser, slurry or inputs other than vermicast scoring 12, with Bronagh suggesting that every 1% increase in a Brix result can give a 0.5-0.75kg improvement in liveweight gain in the cattle. Any amendments which Bronagh applied to the land are designed with this goal in mind, alongside the cost and feasibility within her system. An example of this is that she has been experimenting with using egg shells to help aid the calcium balance and flocculate the soil; this can be spread with a conventional fertiliser spreader rather than other products which can have additional costs due to the price of both material and the contractor required to apply the product. 

Since 2015, the Soil Farmer of the Year Competition has helped to find, promote and champion UK farmers who are passionate about safeguarding their soils and building resilient businesses. As part of the competition, the top three farmers host farm walks that bring farmers together to share good practice and innovations that improve soil health. The 2024 round of the competition opens on 5th of December 2023, which is World Soils Day – if you are interested in finding out more, entering the competition or nominating someone who you think is deserving of this award further details can be found on the Farm Carbon Toolkit website or https://farmcarbontoolkit.org.uk/soil-farmer-of-the-year/ 

Carbon Farmer of the Year Farm Walk at Lockerley Estate, Hampshire – May 2024

In May 2024, the Farm Carbon Toolkit were delighted to hold a farm walk at Lockerley Estate in Hampshire, home to one of the finalists from our 2023 competition. We would like to thank the Estate Manager Craig Livingstone and one of the owners Sarah Butler- Sloss for being so generous in hosting the farm walk.

Everyone who attended the farm walk heard from Craig and his team on how he has managed to make significant reductions in business greenhouse gas emissions, enhance the farmland biodiversity and enhance business performance.


Craig Livingstone took on the role of farm manager at Lockerley Estate, owned by the Sainsbury family, 9 years ago with the challenge to improve biodiversity, sequester carbon, increase the health of the soil, and make a profit. To achieve this, a mission statement was devised with a list of objectives that really helps the whole estate team to work collaboratively to achieve the farm’s goals.

With just under 2,000 ha in Stockbridge, Hampshire, Craig farms Lockerley Estate and Preston Farms as one, which includes arable, grassland, woodland, a veg shed, and pockets of countryside stewardship schemes and SFI options. The farm is also part of a joint venture sheep and cattle enterprise, gaining benefits from grazing and muck which is integrated into the arable rotation. 

Over 9 years, Craig and his team have managed to vastly reduce emissions by transitioning to zero till and reducing artificial fertiliser and chemicals by broadening the rotation and integrating livestock. Specifically, Craig has saved 56,000 litres of red diesel annually and reduced pesticides and N-based fertilisers by 46% and 53% respectively. Soil organic matter has also increased by 1.1%.

Despite focusing on biodiversity, carbon and soils, Craig’s number one priority is profit – every hectare must pay for itself. Where he can, countryside stewardship schemes have been stacked with SFI options to increase profits. In some cases, the options available have encouraged Craig to adopt techniques that, for example, provide integrated pest management because the overall payment in combination with reduced pesticides is more than the potential loss in yield.

Currently, there has been a 17% change in land use, however the farm is still producing 9,000t food (approx. 4.5t/ha). So how has Craig managed to take the farm and reduce its emissions and increase soil organic matter?

Here are some of the highlights from the walk:


Using a broad and diverse rotation and choosing varieties that require fewer inputs, Craig has managed to halve the farm’s emissions due to vast reductions in fertiliser and pesticides. This in part has been achieved through implementing a mixture of winter and spring cropping interspersed with diverse mixes of cover and catch crops; legumes such as peas and beans; rotating grasses and legume fallow. The farm is also experimenting with clover understories and poly-cropping, prioritising diversity to build fertility and maintaining cover and living roots in the soil at all times.

The farm’s transition to no-till, aided by a zero-tillage seed drill, has also resulted in improved soil health and structure, increasing porosity and facilitating better water infiltration and enhanced soil biological activity through less disturbance. A multi-pronged approach to reducing fuels and fertiliser usage.

Encouraging diversity

As mentioned, the farm has taken advantage of environmental schemes such as winter bird feed (AB9), flower-rich margins and plots (AB8), and nectar flower mix (AB1) for multiple reasons. In short, to connect the woodland and encourage a host of wildlife, provide integrated pest management, and to make land more profitable.

Perhaps most interestingly, the team have implemented 6m assist strips of AB8 within a select few arable fields to encourage pollinators, beneficial insects, and predators. The initial cost of the seed is expensive; however, in this instance, the farm is not looking to reseed any time soon (especially within the duration of the agreement). That combined with savings on pesticides, they have found it far outweighs the cost of seed – it makes business sense. 

Craig has also looked critically at areas that are susceptible to weeds, difficult to graze, areas where the land lies wet, or where the shape of the field is awkward. Here, he has taken land out of production and implemented AB1 or other schemes to benefit wildlife and pocket.


A big project on the farm is taking cattle FYM and producing a superior product in solid compost and liquid extract using the Johnson-Su methodology. Agricultural soils tend to be bacterially dominated through repeated cultivations and chemical inputs but this process favours fungal communities which are excellent at cycling nutrients, disease suppression and soil aggregation. 

Good quality cattle muck is mixed with clover bales, straw, and woodchip, and through a series of steps breaks down into a fungally dominated compost. 

Once ready, a compost tea is created by placing a mesh bag full of compost into an IBC of water which is left to steep. This produces a highly nutritious and microbially active substrate which can easily be spread during drilling (rip and drip) and goes a lot further than the compost itself as well as reducing reliance on bagged fertiliser.

Veg Shed

Set up three years ago with a strong commitment to benefitting health, community, and the local environment. The veg shed is made up of 2 acres, 3 polytunnels, 40 laying hens and a fruit cage. The garden grows 50 different fruits and vegetables which it sells to local businesses on a wholesale basis but mostly through a local veg box delivery service.

Everything is grown from seed using heritage and heirloom varieties which have more diversity, and from testing, seem to have more nutritional value. They are also more resilient to a changing climate responding better to drought and high rainfall and requiring less inputs than other high yielding varieties.

The garden is designed as a polyculture and receives no artificial inputs, instead utilising compost from the farm and enlisting the help of dynamic accumulators to extract and release nutrients from the soil.

Wood pasture and Woodland

Linking SSSI woodland and calcareous grassland, the farm took advantage of the woodland pasture creation scheme and introduced longhorn cattle to graze instead of taking silage and hay. The aim is to create a large grazing area of species rich grassland and wood pasture that joins with 220ha of woodland improvement.

There is over 300ha of woodland at Lockerley Estate including a portion of semi-natural ancient woodland. The improved woodland is periodically thinned whilst retaining canopy cover to maintain diversity. Timber is harvested and removed with a percentage of profits returned to the estate.

The biggest outcome has been the flourishing biodiversity and wildlife. Diverse grassland is growing out from the hedges and wildflowers are starting to recover, blending into the woodland, and creating a mosaic landscape. Bird surveys see an increase in species year on year and botanical, butterfly and grasshopper surveys with fixed point photography are ongoing.


Last but not least, Lockerley Estate takes great pride in its hedgerows, planting 12,000 hedgerow plants in the last year. Cutting regimes have also been lengthened to support all wildlife, from insects to birds to small mammals. This is made possible by replacing the hedge cutter with a saw blade to accommodate the thicker branches; the trimmings are then used for ramial woodchip in the composting process.

Summing up

Overall, it was a thoroughly enjoyable day and an interesting insight into how Craig and the team manage to maintain a balance between a thriving farm both in terms of biodiversity and bottom line productivity. Craig has demonstrated that economic resilience can go hand in hand with reduced inputs and tillage without compromising on food production. Entries to this year’s Carbon Farmer of the Year competition close on the 14th June, so  if you believe you are reducing on farm greenhouse gas emissions do enter our competition here

Carbon Farmer of the Year Farm Walk at Durie Farms – November 2023

The 21st November 2023 came in as a bright and sunny day, in stark contrast to the near constant rain which had fallen for the previous weeks.

The occasion was the farm walk for FCT’s Carbon Farmer of the Year Competition on the winner’s farm – Doug Christie of Durie Farms, Fife. Durie Farms is a mixed farm combining arable and cattle enterprises, organic and non-organic as well as woodland.

Liz Bowles (Left) CEO of Farm Carbon Toolkit welcoming people to the farm walk

Before we set out on the walk, Doug introduced his farm and explained some of the practices he has adopted which earned him the title of Carbon Farmer of the Year.

Fundamentals include the incorporation of conservation agriculture (minimum till cultivations and more complex arable rotations including peas and legumes within the rotation as standard) and the integration of extensively managed cattle within the whole farm. Central to this has been regular soil analysis with records going back to 2006. These records include soil organic matter which means that Doug is able to track soil carbon changes over time too. Unusually for the time, Doug also measured soil bulk density  which makes carbon stocks estimates more accurate. Alongside measuring soil carbon stocks, Doug also keeps enterprise fuel allocation records which has allowed him to have a much better understanding of hot spot areas. Through doing this he was able to identify the high fuel usage associated with housing cattle in the winter. This knowledge together with his adoption of holistic grazing practices has enabled him to keep cattle out longer,  with some groups of cattle e.g. in calf heifers now not being housed at all.

Our first stop on the farm walk was the large heap of brushwood next to the farm lane (a result of woodland management) and a question posed to the walkers as to how best to deal with this. Burning the pile would release a lot of carbon dioxide, but would that be less than chipping the pile and then burning it as a fuel? Or what about leaving it to break down naturally and possibly combine with farmyard manure and use as a soil amendment?  Now we are starting to look at these things through a number of lenses, these are the sort of questions farmers are increasingly grappling with.

The first field we entered was growing a cover crop, established in mid – late August after a cereal crop.

Doug Christie  (on the right, spade in hand) describing the cover crop

Doug now makes up his own cover crop mixes using farm saved seeds when possible. The cover crop had really motored on since early September and was providing pretty good canopy cover, in flower and up to waist height.  This cover crop will be holding nutrients in the soil, keeping living roots in place and improving soil structure through the varied rooting depths of the different plants in the cover crop.  Doug puts cover crops in place wherever possible and, for cereal harvesting, uses a stripper header leaving straw to rot down and provide food for earthworms. This was evident when inspecting a soil pit where the number of worms was high – worms everywhere. In fact this field which had been harvested with a stripper header, and had been undersown with a grass clover mix, with cattle having been mob grazed across it a few weeks earlier. The cattle had removed some of the straw and helped to break down the rest, and on the day of the farm walk it was clear that the grass clover sward was coming away nicely. Testament to the improving soil health at Durie Farms is the fact that Doug sold his subsoiler some years ago- surplus to requirements!

Doug shared with the group that he has not used insecticides since 2003 and is now working closely with the James Hutton Institute to carry out research on his farm. He has a fantastic site to investigate the impacts of this decision on insect life on the farm.

Arriving at the in calf heifers as we walked across the farm, it was clear they were wondering if it was time to make their move for the day. 

In calf heifers curious to know what we were talking about

Donald Christie, Doug’s son commented that since moving to holistic grazing and generally daily moves the cattle have become much more biddable, and in the move to outdoor wintering the challenge has been to make sure that this group do not carry too much weight as they approach calving. They receive no supplementary feeding when on grass.  One of the group commented that since adopting holistic grazing cattle health has improved and that the growth rate of outwintered animals surpassed that of housed cattle the following spring.

The group asked Doug what he is doing to reduce his reliance on artificial N fertilisers, one of the hot spots for arable farmers. Through improving soil health and bringing pulses and legumes into his cropping rotation Doug has reduced his reliance on granular urea by 30% since 2009. Yields have gone down but net margin is up. When choosing inputs such as fertiliser it is worth noting that different branded products, produced in different parts of the world, may have very different emissions factors. At Farm Carbon Toolkit, we offer Calculator users the ability to choose the product they have used so an accurate figure for emissions will be included.

The group also tackled the topic of cattle and methane, with an acknowledgement of how complex this topic is. The box below discusses the reasons for looking at a better mechanism for accounting for methane, one of the shortest lived greenhouse gases and one which is produced by ruminants as an intrinsic function of rumen function. 

What is becoming clearer is that how cattle are managed will have an impact on their overall impacts on our environment. Certainly Doug is minimising their negative impacts, through minimising their consumption of foods which could be eaten by humans directly, minimising their use of other sources of emissions such as fertiliser and fuel and making sure that their grazing activity has a positive impact on the soils they stand on and sequestering as much carbon as possible in their wake.

Accounting for methane: GWP* and GWP100
GWP (Global Warming Potential) is a measure of how much impact a gas will have on warming the atmosphere. The most common method to evaluate the effect of different greenhouse gases (GHGs) is by comparing them over a 100-year lifetime; this is known as GWP100. This is the internationally agreed metric chosen under the Paris Agreement and the primary tool for emission reduction targets globally. 

Using GWP, it’s possible to compare the impact of different GHGs by converting them to their carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) value. The latest research suggests that using GWP100, biogenic methane emissions are 27 times more powerful than CO2; and nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions are 273 times more powerful. However, unlike CO2 and N2O gases that last for hundreds of years in the atmosphere, methane only lasts for an average of 12 years after which most of it is broken down. This means that using GWP100, the impacts of methane could be considered overestimated in the long-term, and underestimated in the short term. 

In an aim to better account for methane, in 2016, a team of researchers proposed a new metric, known as GWP* that works over a 20 year period. Over a 20 year period, emitting a tonne of methane today has 80 times more temperature impact than carbon dioxide. However, the new metric is also designed to reflect the warming impact of ongoing emissions of methane in relation to the current levels of that gas in the atmosphere. The theory is that, over time, ongoing emissions are not adding warming to the atmosphere, but merely replacing old emissions that have degraded. Essentially, GWP* focuses on changes in emissions rather than absolute emissions. This accounting approach has been gathering support within UK agriculture sector, however it does also face some criticism (example).

As we turned for home, and the beckoning hot drinks and cakes, conversation turned to reducing the negative impacts of growing potatoes and the potential for woodland to sequester carbon into trees. On the topic of reducing the harms associated with growing potatoes there is a clear role for keeping living roots in the soil for as much of the year as possible, but to date no alternative has been found to the punishing soil management routine required to grow potatoes, although research is underway.

Liz explaining to the group how woodland is accounted for in the Farm Carbon Calculator

Doug has 50ha of woodland across the farm, with different areas having been in place from 10 -240 years. As his summary carbon footprint report shows, the woodland at Durie Farms alongside soil carbon sequestration offset the business GHG emissions last year. Of the total sequestration, woodland contributed around 50%. It is worth noting that the carbon sequestration associated with woodland depends on the growth rate of the tree. The Woodland Carbon Code has developed “look up tables” for this which the Farm Carbon Calculator  has incorporated into the sequestration area of the Calculator. For users, providing accurate information on the age of the trees as well as their varieties will enable a more accurate assessment of the scale of sequestration to be given. A rule of thumb is that most trees sequester only small amounts of carbon for the first decade or so of life. From the age of around 15 – 30 years carbon sequestration is at its maximum. After that age growth tends to slow down and with it carbon sequestration.

Doug is continually trying new ideas, with pasture cropping a new initiative he has ‘frustratingly’ tried this year. Doug’s long term membership of BASE UK  has supported him in his quest for adopting new and more sustainable farming practices. A quick look at the BASE UK website revealed a number  of fascinating events coming up in the next month including this one:

14/12/23 BASE-UK Member Nick Wall will present his review of the study tour recently taken by 15 members to visit Frederic Thomas and other BASE France members in November 2023 – it wasn’t all good food and drink – there was some learning involved! 

Back in the cattle yard (not in use yet) we finished with a round up of questions, answers and general discussion.

Thank you to our hosts, the Christie Family, for a memorable farm walk and great hospitality.

What happened at our Annual Field Day 2023

A day to glimpse the future of sustainable nature friendly farming and all the ways in which farmers are already farming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and remove carbon from the atmosphere and store in soils and biomass.

On 21 Sep 2023, our Annual Field Day brought together alumni from the Farm Net Zero project in Cornwall alongside past and current  FCT Soil and Carbon Farmer of the Year competitions. And we were grateful to Yeo Valley, Velcourt and First Milk who helped to sponsor the day.

The event was held at Hendred Estates courtesy of Julian Gold and the estate owners. The day dawned bright and sunny unlike the day before when you could have been forgiven for thinking that we were in the eye of a tropical storm!

Our delegates arrived ready for a 10am start and we were off to a flying start with Julian introducing his farm and all the practices he has been finessing for many a year.

Annual Field Day 2023

Julian acknowledged that the timing of our event  was pertinent with the news that Westminster is preparing to “back off” their net zero targets but he was clear that he will be carrying on as normal with his efforts to reduce emissions .

His analogy is of “Maintaining the factory premises”: if you run a factory to produce cars, you have to maintain the factory to be able to keep the cars rolling out. In the same way, farmers need to maintain the natural processes (natural capital) the farm relies on in order to keep being able to produce food (whether or not DEFRA or anyone else are paying!).

Julian highlighted that C sequestration can only get farmers so far in terms of net zero – they need to reduce their emissions and look to innovative practices to be able to keep C in the ground. He commented that as soil carbon levels rise closer to those under the hedges (optimum levels perhaps) his ability to offset emissions with additional carbon storage will be reduced. This is something pioneers in this space will need to consider.

Delegates were then sent on a circuit of the farm  to join workshops on best practice grazing, livestock feed self-sufficiency and crop cultivation and diversity. 

We have captured the nuggets from the workshop discussions below:

Grazing clinic – chaired by Rob Purdew (FCT)

We heard from Rich Stanbury (Beef and sheep farmer from Exmoor), Andrew Rees (Dairy farmer from Wales) and  Tim Williams (FNZ demo farmer).

Rich Stanbury runs a beef and sheep system that previously included arable for feed but he has recently been  able to take out all his arable land and move to an entirely home grown forage system with 150 suckler cows and 1100 ewes that are out all year. 

He’s taken part in an  Innovative Farmer’s Trial using a diverse forage crop mix as a break. They planted a field with kale on one half and a 16 species forage mix on the other half. Within three months, there was a visible difference in soil structure between the forage mix and the kale (that Rich could hardly believe). What’s more the forage mix provides diverse nutrition for the sheep and cattle – in Rich’s words, “the cows don’t just want to eat steak, they want peas and chips which is why the mix is good for livestock”.

Andrew Rees has a dairy herd that is now grass-based. He has transitioned the farm to spring calving and reduced his chemical inputs and artificial N fertiliser from 300 kg N/ha gradually and is on track to avoid all  chemical Nitrogen fertiliser use next year. He has done this by focussing on diverse pastures but explained that small actions like bale grazing young stock and using summer forage mixes have been useful stepping stones whilst transitioning the farm.

Tim Williams grew up on sheep and beef farms in New Zealand before moving to manage a dairy unit in NZ. After managing farms in both the UK and back in NZ, he learnt more about rotational grazing using the Kiwitech system . Now he is contract farming in Cornwall helping to showcase a regenerative system for the Farm Net Zero project. The farm was previously arable land which had become severely degraded. Tim has transitioned this to a perennial system which started with the initial introduction of a 30 species mix cover crop and the grazing of a small suckler herd that has been built up with store heifers and pedigree Angus. Tim is aiming for 100 head of cattle but is building the herd gradually. He has been bale grazing for energy to be able to overwinter the calves. He is achieving 1 kg LWG per day for growing cattle on this diverse perennial mix.

What was the moment you knew your new approach was working?

  • Tim It immediately followed the lowest point. Three years of hard graft and nearly reaching breaking point in Spring 2023 with it being so dry, worrying that there wouldn’t be anything for the cattle to eat, and then the growth taking off and it being amazing.
  • Rich As a fourth generation on the same farm, the negativity from family and neighbours was difficult. Having lots of knowledge to back up the transition helped. Now, a few years down the line, having no N inputs and having to increase the stocking rate because we’re growing more grass than when we were buying in N, that’s how I know it’s working. 
  • “Farmers don’t like change, but when they see that something is really working, they will eventually make the change themselves .

Wasn’t a 16 species or 30 species cover crop expensive? How did you choose what to sow?

  • It was possible to reduce the sowing rate of the 16 way mix. Agronomists are not typically interested in advising on seed mixes because what they really want to sell you is N fertiliser
  • Sunflower, sorghum and millet were successful  plants to include in the seed mixture and  pump a lot of carbon into the soil which benefits the structure, but he found sorghum didn’t establish well on his farm.
  • It’s very easy to overspend on mixes and seeds. Plan carefully. You can get an SFI SAM3 (similar to GS4) and stack options to make it pay. 
  • Think of it a different way: they saw a 500g /day liveweight gain in sheep on the 16 way mix and a 30 kg increased liveweight gain  over winter on outwintered cattle grazed on the mix compared to housed cattle. So the benefits can outweigh the expense of the seed.
  • You may not need to resow. You can get the animals to disperse the seed for you (so seed one field and then graze the livestock on that after it’s set seed, then move them to where you want that seed to grow next).
  • You may not need to sow at all. Permanent pasture left ungrazed or “rested” might be able to be put into GS4 to get a payment with none of the seed cost!

What does a perennial system look like?

  • You have to be patient. You sow 16 or 30 species and it will seem like some don’t establish. Annuals will come first, that’s normal for succession. It might seem like the perennials have not appeared but they will gradually take over from the annuals. It’s important to have the annuals to cover the soil while the perennials establish and this prevents weeds. It’s succession.
  • Allowing the pasture to set seed is important as it allows a seed bank to be established (so you don’t have to resow).
  • Sheep will pick off the best bits and so you keep them moving. Then you can bring in the cattle to pull off the rest.

Crop cultivation and diversity – chaired by Tilly Kimble-Wilde (FCT)

We heard from Tim Parton (Green Farm Collective), Julian Gold (host farm), David Miller(Arable farmer from Hampshire)

Feed self-sufficiency – chaired by Stefan Marks (FCT)

This session focussed on the ways in which farmers could become more self-sufficient in feed production. The session was introduced by Stefan, who explained that feed was a global commodity which is at risk of global price fluctuations, particularly recently, which can cause significant economic challenges on farm. The session explored how growing different crops could help enhance crop rotations, benefit plant and soil biodiversity and how to reduce inputs on-farm (including fertiliser and antibiotic usage). 

We heard from Michael Carpenter (Kelvin Cave) and Chris Berry (Devon farmer).

Michael highlighted the importance of making best use of what you can grow on your own farm, or trading with your neighbours, which will not only help profitability but also lower the farm carbon footprint. Discussions ensued about the importance of forage preservation and optimising milk from forage, highlighting the practical things that can be done on-farm to maintain quality including grass species, and numbers of cuts to minimise dry matter losses. Michael also talked about the benefits of crimped cereals, which provides higher dry matter yield per ha, a greater fibre digestibility in the seed coat before it lignifies, and more available protein in the cereal. As protein is a high cost (both economically and in terms of carbon) to the farm, cutting down the cost of protein is a good strategy. The NCS project was discussed which is aiming to provide practical information about how by growing peas and beans we can reduce the cost of protein and achieve economic, environmental and animal performance benefits. For more information on the NCS project please click here. https://farmcarbontoolkit.org.uk/2023/07/19/the-ncs-project-more-info/

Chris Berry farms 450 acres near Exeter, on dry sandy soil. Traditionally the farm was a mixed farm lambing Christmas and Easter, calving in the autumn and spring and growing cereals to feed back to the animals. As Chris came home he was asking a lot of questions about the system and its sustainability for the future. Having come back from New Zealand, Chris decided to change the system to become less reliant on subsidies.

The farm made the switch from lambing 700 ewes indoors and outdoors to one big flock of 7-800 New Zealand highlander ewes, and moved to an Angus breed on the cows to make the most of the forage based genetics. This was the starting point to transitioning the farm. At the beginning they were still using feed and fertiliser to make the system work, but gradually Chris came to the realisation that he also needed to focus on what was below the ground and making the best use of grass.

Previously the farm was growing 100ac res of barley, which was rolled and fed to the cattle alongside a lot of purchased creep. Chris started putting up electric fencing and rotating the stock around the paddocks. He started with lots of small groups and lots of moves, but through engaging with a discussion group and Precision Grazing, the system has now moved to include measuring grass and paddock grazing with existing leys (ryegrasses and clovers).

The system was working well, however there were still challenges in the dry summers, and so herbal leys were introduced to provide forage in June – August. Chris started with a 9 ha field which was sown with chicory, red and white clover, plantain and put 300 lambs on it and they gained 10kg in the month they were there. This was a turning point for Chris as he hadn’t managed to achieve  a similar growth rate on creep feed. Since then Chris has got rid of the land which was growing cereals and has put it into herbal leys.

Now he has a much more consistent supply of forage when he needs it to match the stock energy requirements. Chris has managed to reduce antibiotic use on farm by 75%, eliminate 80 tonnes of purchased creep feed, and reduced fertiliser by 33 tonnes, which has saved 156t of CO2e, along with an increased output from the farm from 240 to 280 kg per ha. 

Following lunch and a presentation to our FCT retiring Chairman David Gardner we all settled down for the afternoon to focus on ways to reduce fossil fuel energy usage and how best to benefit from the new emerging voluntary markets for carbon, biodiversity net gain and nutrient neutrality. 

First out of the blocks was the awards for our new competition Carbon Farmer of the Year. 

FCT  set up this Competition  to recognise  and champion farmers, sector organisations and businesses who are leading the way in adopting farming practices and developing new technologies to reduce farm emissions whilst optimising output. 

We wanted to enable discussions on carbon emissions and sinks on farms to be framed in a very practical way to help everyone to increase their understanding and provide ideas for change.

Our judges were Adam Twine – our founder and long term advocate of climate friendly farming practices and mixed farmer from Wiltshire, David Cope, head of Sustainability at the Duchy of Cornwall and Emily Norton, farmer and chair of the Soil Association Exchange Advisory Group. 

Our four finalists were Anthony Ellis from Pensipple Farm, Cornwall, Craig Livingstone from Lockerley Estates, Hampshire, Doug Christie from Durie Farms, Fife and Thomas Gent from Oakley Farm, Cambridgeshire.

Carbon Farmer of the Year 2023 Winners
Carbon Farmer of the Year 2023 Winners

Doug Christie emerged as our winner. Doug has a mixed farm incorporating an arable enterprise and an organic beef herd alongside woodland.  He has been incorporating conservation agriculture practices increasingly since 1999 and was very much a pioneer of climate friendly farming when it was far from fashionable. He realised long ago that reducing emission heavy inputs would reduce his farm footprint. He has been doing that whilst working to improve soil health to enable crop yields to be optimised. Doug is an advocate for increasing natural capital and biodiversity on the farm which he believes underpins the farm’s resilience and truly sustainable food production. Testament to this focus on biodiversity is that Doug ceased using insecticides over 20 years ago. 

FCT will be holding a farm walk at Durie Farms on the 21st November to showcase what Doug is doing.

This was followed by a session to consider some of the opportunities for farmers to benefit from the new and emerging markets for carbon and biodiversity net gain as well as nutrient neutrality. Our speakers included Rob Shepherd, chair of the Environmental Farmers Group, Daniel Wynn, Head of Nature Based Solutions at Kent Wildlife Trust and Julian Gold from Hendred Estate and Nick Down from Velcourt Farms.  Rob spoke about the work of the Environmental Framers Group (EFG) as a farmer controlled business to enable its members to jointly benefit nutrient neutrality payment schemes across their area of activity which is currently central southern England but is expanding fast with over 1.5% ofEngalnd’s farmed area signed up for membership.  

Dan Wynn shared information on Wilder Carbon, a Kent Wildlife Trust subsidiary which is working with land owners and managers to draw down carbon payments from the development of  Nature Based Solution creation on land.  Dan talked delegates through the process and  talked about the pitfalls which are present in this landscape at the moment and how best to avoid them which crucially involves working with partners with integrity and being very clear about the agreements you are entering into as they are often very long term and will come with significant delivery requirements as  well as robust monitoring and verification.

Following Dan’s presentations two farmers, Julian Gold and Nick Down gave their perspectives on these markets. Julian from the point of view of having entered some land into a BNG agreement last year and now fully appreciating the long term requirements of meeting the agreement requirements and from Nick discussing how customer requirements are driving a focus on supply chain carbon insetting and how farmers can gain power in this space.  This topic drove discussion with delegates asking about future market requirements and how this might affect the attractiveness of current schemes available in this space.

Following this session we finished with a very practical session looking at reducing farm reliance on fossil fuel based sources of power. 

Three of our speakers in this session have reduced reliance on fossil fuels through the following technologies:

  • Harvesting biomethane from the farm’s slurry store to power on farm machinery and sell the surplus –  Katie and Kevin Hoare from Cornwall
  • Woodfuel as an alternative heat source – Andy Bradford from Dartmoor Woodfuel
  • Replacing diesel and heating oil with oats and chip fat – Anthony Ellis from Cornwall
  • An analysis of alternative non-fossil fuel sources – David Gardner reviewed the future potential for  power derived from solar and wind versus hydrogen with the conclusion that the invention of solid state batteries will give a significant advantage to electric motors powered by batteries or the grid due to their superior  power translation into available power at the point of requirement.

We will be uploading slides from these sessions onto our website in due course so that you can look in detail at their presentations. 

Kindly supported by:

Yeo Valley, Velcourt and First Milk.

Agroforestry Show


The scorching September sunshine in Wiltshire at the Agroforestry Show was a good reminder of just how important trees are to us humans and to livestock, providing shade, a different microclimate and more water cycling. Hosts Helen Browning and Ben Raskin showed the extensive field scale alley cropping that intercrops trees, crops and livestock. As Helen said “ever since planting these trees the whole field has felt more alive”.

Agroforestry Show

The trees are not only providing benefits in hot weather, but also reducing wind speed, increasing biodiversity and habitat, sequestering carbon and slowing down water in the landscape. But furthermore they are providing extra income opportunities for farmers and growers – such as fruit, timber, woodchip, nuts, and sticks for the future, along with potential ELMS payments.

Alley crops

The event was very much about spreading and sharing knowledge and insight, with a wide range of presentations and discussions. So much discussion was clearly being had amongst people with an interest in agroforestry in a way that only these sorts of events in person can really do. Businesses displaying at the event were as diverse as fruit tree nurseries, wood processing, banks, advisory, nature charities and many more; an indication of just how wide a range of people have an interest in the growth and continued success of agroforestry.

Sea buckthorn

At FCT we had many discussions with attendees about carbon footprinting, and especially carbon sequestration in soils and perennial crops. We believe the Calculator and Advisory work we do really compliments the aims of agroforestry and look forward to more discussions on this subject with farmers and growers in the future.

One of the actions we will certainly take away is to deepen our understanding of the carbon sequestration benefits of Agroforestry systems, and to reflect that in terms of options in the Farm Carbon Calculator.

Becky talking