Tag: Events

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 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

Apples

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

FCT Annual Field Day 2023 plan and speaker bios announced

We are excited to announce our plans for this year’s Farm Carbon Toolkit Annual Field Day, this year to be held at the Hendred Estate, Wantage, on the 21st September.

This event is a day for farmers, sharing their experiences for improving performance and resilience in a challenging environment. During the day we will showcase all the ways in which farmers are already changing farming practice to respond to the need to reduce emissions and build on farm carbon within their businesses. We will share our insights from supporting farmers to reduce GHG emissions and remove carbon into soils and biomass, involving key elements of the transition to a nature friendly decarbonisation of agriculture. 

FCT Annual Field Day 2023 schedule now available

You can now find the plan for the day here!

Here you’ll get an idea of the shape of the day and the major topics and themes to be covered. It’s set to be a useful day, with lots of take home ideas, and space for discussions and questions.

Our fantastic selection of speakers will share key insights into areas where emission reductions can be made and farm resilience built. 

During the day we will have the following sessions:

  • Grazing clinic
  • Crop cultivation and diversity
  • Feed: Self-sufficiency
  • Benefiting from private markets for carbon and biodiversity
  • Fuel and energy

The day will also include a breakout ‘calculator clinic’, the Carbon Farmer of the Year awards (a new competition which we launched this year), and an opportunity to see the Six Inches of Soil trailer.

Speaker bios

Grazing clinic

Andrew Rees

Andrew Rees owns and operates a grass based spring calving dairy farm with his family in Pembrokeshire. In recent years he has taken a more soil centric approach to running the farm with the introduction of more diversity into grazing leys, significantly reducing chemical fertiliser inputs and changing grazing practices. 

Soil Farmer of the year runner-up in 2022, Andrew is aiming to produce nutrient dense food regeneratively within the capabilities of the farm ecosystem. Andrew aims to reduce the farm’s risk to matters outside of its control such as escalating input costs and extreme weather events. He’s not not afraid to try new things, examples this year include rearing replacement heifers on nurse cows, bokashi composting and 18 species grazing cover crop mixes. 

@AndrewMoorfarm

James Daniel

James has experience across a wide range of soil types, enterprises and business structures bringing a thorough understanding of pasture-based livestock systems to all work from business planning to regenerative farming system design. 

Founding Precision Grazing in 2016 he works across the UK helping farmers to implement and manage effective livestock grazing systems leading to a reduction in costs, lower carbon footprint, improved productivity and profit. 

@precisiongraze & @grazingjames. Facebook: Precision Grazing

Tim Williams

Tim Williams farms 400 acres over three properties, the central operation being a contract farming operation on Erth Barton farm (part of the Antony Estate in SE Cornwall), where over the last three years he has transitioned 300 acres of ex-conventional arable into a no-input, regenerative, livestock based system, running a 65 cow suckler herd supplemented with bought in stores. 

The zero-input system relies on complex herbal leys, rotational grazing and biological inputs such as compost teas and extracts. His time between farm management, advisory work and educational workshops. Tim and his wife have recently set up ‘Mamm’, a field to table cafe on Crocadon Farm and he also grows heritage grains marketed directly as flour to local bakeries. 

www.timwilliams.farm, www.instagram.com/erth_farmer

Crop cultivation & diversity

David Miller

David grew up in Essex and left school in 1975 at the age of 16. He worked on the same farm with his father and completed a City and Guilds day release course at Writtle College. David then moved up to a foreman’s job on a neighbouring farm., and in 1998 he moved to Hampshire to take a Manager’s post which then evolved into the joint venture of Wheatsheaf Farming in 2002. In 2004 David was awarded a Nuffield Farming Scholarship and travelled to Australia, New Zealand, Sweden and Hungary studying labour recruitment, training and retention.

In 2010, after 35 years of chemical dominated crop production, soil and biology has become the centre of his attention with solutions being sought from places other than just bags and cans.

In 2021 Wheatsheaf Farming became the Strategic Farm South for the AHDB with the objective of looking at practices and principles to continue the journey into regenerative agriculture beyond cover crops and no till.

@fowell103 

Feed- Self-sufficiency

Michael Carpenter 

Originally from Somerset, where he worked in dairy and beef farming, Michael went on to study agriculture at Harper Adams before embarking on a career across a broad base of the livestock industry, beginning with Genus Breeding, and later switching to the feed industry and National Beef Association. Throughout, hes increasingly questioned whether the feed industry was working in the farmer’s best interests, paving the way for him to join Kelvin Cave Ltd, 18 years ago. Today, he is technical director for this feed and forage preservation company, which is a driving force behind the innovative preservation of home-grown feeds.

Against the might of the feed industry, he has helped encourage farmers to ditch bought-in compounds whenever possible and maximise the nutrient value of what they grow on farm, cutting costs of production and promoting farm-to-farm trading of home-preserved feeds. With a particular interest in UK-grown proteins, he is taking the lead role for Kelvin Cave Ltd in the NCS project (Nitrogen Efficient Plants for Climate Smart Arable Cropping Systems).    

Tim Parton

Tim Parton is a Farm Manager in South Staffordshire in the UK farming 300 ha. Tim farms in a biological way maximizing the value of nutrition to get the best out of the crops. He does not use insecticides, seed treatments, growth regulators or fungicides, as when the plant is balanced the need for synthetic inputs drops away. Tim has won many awards including Soil Farmer of the Year 2017, Arable Innovator of the Year 2019, Sustainable Farmer of the Year 2019 and Innovation Farmer of the Year 2020.

Benefiting from private markets for carbon and biodiversity

Nick Down

Nick Down is the Farms Manager for Yattendon Estates & Head of Sustainability for Velcourt Ltd. After graduating from the University of Plymouth and following a year working overseas, Nick has been managing farms in the North Wessex Downs for the last sixteen years, having grown up on a dairy farm in Mid Devon.  Currently managing the farming business of the Yattendon Estate, Nick is overseeing the transition to a more sustainable farming system, incorporating more space for nature and enhancing carbon sequestration under an ambitious environmental delivery program. The farm business now forms part of the LEAF demonstration farm network, one of 42 farms across the UK showcasing best practice through an integrated farm management approach.

Nick is a member of the Upper Pang Farmer Cluster working collaboratively with 8 local farmers and land owners, aiming to bring environmental delivery at a landscape scale, and is also a member of the Berkshire Local Nature Partnership. Nick also acts as the Head of Environmental Sustainability for Velcourt who manage 57,000 hectares of farmland, for 120 clients across the UK. This role is encompassing the areas of  environmental land management and countryside stewardship, net zero strategy, natural capital and ecosystem service markets.

Home – Velcourt

Fuel & Energy

Andy Bradford

The Bradford family have been farming a Duchy of Cornwall estate since 1969. Their prime activity is beef farming with a South Devon suckler herd and emphasis on managing the wildlife rich landscape as they aim to diversify into sustainable tourism in an ethical and environmentally conscious fashion. They have an open access policy, welcoming visitors to enjoy the rich biodiversity around the farm.

Diversification began in 1975 with a Farmhouse Tearooms, and further diversification in the 1980’s which included conversion of traditional farm buildings into accommodation and conference facilities.

In 2005 during a study trip to Switzerland Andy realised the potential of biomass as a source of renewable energy and on this trip thoughts turned to how well this model would suit the Dartmoor region. Dartmoor Wood-Fuel Co-operative was established in 2009 by a group of like-minded Dartmoor residents. Initially they supplied six boilers from a variety of businesses including a hotel, a tourist attraction and local farms. Now co-operative membership has grown to over 45 sites around the region, processing over 4000 tons of biomass annually.  

www.brimptsfarm.co.uk, www.dartmoorwoodfuel.co.uk 

Anthony Ellis

Anthony is a farmer and independent agronomist from Cornwall. He farms with his father and runs a mixed sheep and arable system on 200 acres, where they seek to integrate the sheep and arable enterprises as much as possible with cover crops, herbal leys and cereal grazing, in order to minimise inputs and improve soil health as much a s possible.

They direct market their lamb to the local community and beyond, and are involved in a project to add value to their wool by working directly with the fashion and textile industry. As an independent agronomist and consultant, Anthony works with farmers looking to adapt to more regenerative farming systems.

@anthonyellis79, Facebook: Pensipple Farm – Solar Powered Lamb

David Gardner

David Gardner is now mostly retired. He spent most of his career in farm management with the Co-operative farms.  At the end of his career he spent 6 years at the RASE where he developed the Innovation for Agriculture initiative with 15 other Agricultural Societies.

At home he has had a wind turbine and a heat pump for over ten years and has super insulated the house. He drives an electric car and is about to install solar PV on the roof, heat storage for both hot water and heating along with diverters to maximise his use of his own energy.

He has a keen interest in all aspects of sustainability and has a particular interest in analysing the big picture – ‘How are we going to run a more sustainable Society for 9 billion people within the constraints associated with our limited resources?’

Other confirmed speakers include:

To book your place:

  • Price includes hog roast lunch (contact us for any dietary requirements) and teas/coffees.

Lift sharing:

Interested in lift sharing? Head here (event location: Hendred Estate, Hill Farm, St Mary’s Road, East Hendred, OX12 8LF. W3W/roosters.bleak.earl).

This event is kindly supported by :

Yeo ValleyVelcourtFirst Milk.

We look forward to seeing you there!

Outwintering on forage/cover crops

A Farm Net Zero event in December 2022 at Blable Farm, Wadebridge.

Outwintering is one option for reducing costs and carbon footprint for livestock farmers, although issues can arise when outwintering unsuitable animals on unsuitable crops/soil. To address this, Farm Net Zero (FNZ) Demo Farmers, Mike and Sam Roberts, have been trialling different cover crop mixes for their weaned calves this winter. 94 weaned calves entered the cover crops in mid-November with enough crop to see them through to mid-February, In December they were on two-day moves with one hay bale for roughage. A cold day in December provided a good opportunity to see how they are getting on.

The crops were established through either direct drilling or discing/power harrow drill in late August, the drought through the summer of 2022 delayed establishment and therefore the bulk of the crop. In the spring, these fields will go into a herbal ley reseed with Mike and Sam hoping that the cover crops will have outcompeted much of the weeds, reducing herbicide use, and the cattle will have done some of the initial cultivations. In December the calves were leaving some of the stemmier material and radish bulbs, and attendees discussed the merits of either cultivating this material in to benefit the soil, leaving calves for longer to ensure they eat it (and therefore risking growth rates) or utilising suckler cows to clean up after the priority stock class of the calves. Calf growth rates were to be measured through the winter and spring, with Mike and Sam expecting to see a slow-down in growth through the winter but a faster growth rate in spring as the outwintered calves take less transitioning onto grass than housed animals.

Having a range of plant species in the mixes is done with the ambition to discover which species grow successfully and in sufficient quantity/quality to support the calves through the winter. Species presence/absence was assessed by Dr Hannah Jones from Farm Carbon Toolkit and forage samples were sent for analysis of crude protein, digestibility and other qualities with the results available in the “Grazed winter cover crops” factsheet. Mike and Sam ultimately hope for this crop to be a “standing total mixed ration (TMR)” that could be grazed through the winter without supplementary feeding of silage or hay.

Mike also took time to show the main herd cows outwintering on deferred grass. These were on two-day moves on half a hectare of grass that has been left since August, plus two hay bales which will carry them through to calving in March.

Outwintering at Blable has helped to reduce costs through reductions in time, fuel and feed use through the winter. The outwintering crops greatly reduce the amount of conserved forage fed to the cattle and tractor use is negligible compared to housing where feed is brought to the animals, muck scraped away daily and dirty bedding spread after winter. This has clear corresponding savings in carbon emissions.

Key takeaways

  • Diversity of plant species increases resilience to extreme weather, pests and disease and provides greater diversity of ration for livestock.
  • Outwintering reduces financial costs and reduces carbon emissions from fuel and feed.

This event was made possible with thanks to the National Lottery Community Fund who fund the Farm Net Zero (FNZ) project.

Farm Net Zero resources, events, newsletter

  • To find out more about other previous events, trials and resources produced from the Farm Net Zero project head here.
  • To keep an eye out for future Farm Net Zero events head to our events webpage here.
  • To keep up to date with the project subscribe to the Farm Net Zero newsletter here.

Planning for the Future with Environmental Stewardship

A Farm Net Zero event held in November 2022 at Stumble Inn, Boyton, PL15 8NU.

With changes to farm subsidy payments, there is some uncertainty as to what will replace them. In November 2022 a group of farmers met at the Stumble Inn to discuss the future of environmental stewardship and the options available to them.

The talk started with an introduction by Hannah Jones of Farm Carbon Toolkit. She explained that while environmental schemes have traditionally been paid on an income foregone basis, farmers should also recognise the hidden benefits of environmental practices for their farm businesses. These can include:

  • providing pollinator habitat to benefit crops
  • providing shelter for livestock in inclement weather
  • preventing soil erosion.

Hannah also mentioned the carbon sequestration value for different stewardship options, which are included in the Farm Carbon Calculator.

Next, we heard from Tim Dart, FNZ Monitor Farmer and Head of the Farm Advisory Team at Devon Wildlife Trust. Tim suggested that with the reduction and eventual removal of the Basic Payment Scheme and the volatility in farm inputs and farmgate prices, farmers should consider joining the new Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI). This can provide a stable income for practices such as:

  • taking soil organic matter samples
  • writing a soil management plan
  • maintaining ground cover
  • growing diverse leys or cover crops

Many of which are practices that the FNZ Monitor Farms are already undertaking or are interested in.

James Ruddick from Cornwall Council then gave a talk on the new Daras website, developed by
Cornwall Council to provide a “one-stop shop” for agricultural funding opportunities and advice. By registering for free, farmers and landowners can see what funding opportunities are available to them for various activities funded by a mix of government and private finance.

Forest for Cornwall is a Cornwall Council initiative aiming to increase tree cover in Cornwall through the creation of woodland, copses, shelter belts, orchards and wood pasture. Project Officer Jenny Rogers explained the various ways that farmers can get involved through the Woodland Creation Partnership, Woodland Trust MoreWoods and MoreHedges grants and the England Woodland Creation Offer (EWCO). The EWCO in particular will provide financial support of up to £8500 per ha for development costs and £300 per ha per year for maintenance costs for 10 years. Forest for Cornwall are also aiming to establish 10 fully funded agroforestry sites in Cornwall to demonstrate best practice and the diversity of options for integrating trees into farming systems. Jenny highlighted the range of benefits that trees can provide in agriculture including:

  • diversifying income
  • protecting soil from wind and rain erosion
  • providing shelter and forage for livestock.

The discussion turned to the experiences of some of the monitor farmers present at the meeting. Ben Thomas, who farms at Warleggan and manages the Belted Galloway herd on Goss Moor National Nature Reserve, spoke about the benefits he has seen of allowing cattle access to woodland on the moor. Willow was preferentially grazed over what Ben thought was “good” grass, with faecal egg counts showing a low parasite burden and good growth rates. Ben also mentioned his experience of the Farming in Protected Landscape (FiPL) grant that allowed him to invest in electric fencing to better manage grazing at the Warleggan farm. The FiPL grant is available to farmers in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and is far less prescriptive than other grants. A wide variety of activities can be funded as long as they are approved by a local board for their contribution to nature, climate and the public. Dairy farmers, John and Sue Nattle and mixed farmer, Martin Howlett have also benefited from FiPL grants through the Tamar Valley AONB for herbal leys and a wildlife pond respectively. Martin had also made use of the Countryside Stewardship Mid Tier to support school visits for children from Plymouth to learn about farming and nature. Unfortunately, as suckler beef farmer Jonathan Chapman pointed out, FiPL only applies to farms within an AONB. Jonathan’s farm directly borders an AONB and his application was refused, opening up a conversation on whether FiPL-style grants should be made more widely available to extend their benefits.

New entrant dairy farmers, Bradley and Nicole Davey, then spoke about their experiences of farming within constraints set by their landlord’s stewardship agreement. GS4 herbal leys have been planted and are being successfully grazed by the Davey’s dairy herd, as well as benefiting soil health and biodiversity. Bradley encouraged others to try to find stewardship agreements that suit their farm system, a sentiment echoed by fellow dairy farmer Phil Kent, who has also found GS4 herbal leys to be of value on their own farming merits as well as stewardship payments. Arable and beef farmer Jon Perry rounded out the meeting by bringing up the important point of food production being a public good worth supporting. Jon also commended the younger farmers in the room for both their farming ambitions and commitments to environmental stewardship.

This event was made possible with thanks to the National Lottery Community Fund who fund the Farm Net Zero (FNZ) project.

Farm Net Zero resources, events, newsletter

  • To find out more about other previous events, trials and resources produced from the Farm Net Zero project head here.
  • To keep an eye out for future Farm Net Zero events head to our events webpage here.
  • To keep up to date with the project subscribe to the Farm Net Zero newsletter here.

Low Carbon Ag Show – drop-in sessions on carbon footprinting

We are looking forward to heading to the Low Carbon Agriculture Show on the 7th and 8th February 2023 at the NAEC, Stoneleigh and hope to see you there!

We shall have a stand there (stand 413) and we will be offering individual 15 minute sessions to farmers to help you to understand farm carbon footprinting. We can answer any questions you may have, and show you how to get started on your own farm carbon footprint.

When:

The times for the 15 minute consultations at the drop in ‘surgery’ are:

  • 7th February: 10am – 12pm
  • 8th February: 10am – 11am and 2.30 – 3.30pm. 

To book:

Please visit: Select a Date & Time – Calendly to book your slot.

We’ll be there all day both days, so do come and drop by at any time.

Soil Farmer of The Year 2022

The 5th of December is World Soil Day and also the launch of the 2022 Soil Farmer of The Year Competition.

Now in it’s seventh year, the Soil Farmer of The Year competition aims to find farmers and growers who are engaged with, and passionate about managing their soils in a way which supports productive agriculture, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and builds soil health, organic matter and carbon.

Previous winners of both the Arable and Livestock Soil Farmer of the Year title have demonstrated how soil health can be integrated into all aspects of a farming business, to aid economic resilience and environmental custodianship. The competition aims to promote businesses or individuals who are fantastic ambassadors for soil health and the benefit agriculture can have on the wider landscape.

If you would be interested in entering the competition please see the further details below. Equally, if you would like to nominate someone who you feel would be an excellent candidate please do not hesitate to get in touch!

FAQ:

When does the entry period close?

The closing date for the competition is the 5th of March 2022.

How do I enter?

You can enter the competition HERE

We encourage applications from all sizes and types of farm – if you are passionate about soil management we would love to hear what you are up to. Equally, if you know someone who you would like to nominate or have any further questions please get in touch and we will be happy to have a chat: [email protected]

How is the competition judged?

All entries will be anonymised and short-listed for judging by our panel including the winners of the 2021 competition. The highest placed entrants will then be contacted and farm walks with our judging panel will commence in May 2022 to decide the finalists for the 2022 competition.

When are the winners announced?

The winners will be announced at the Groundswell Regenerative Agriculture Show and Conference at the end of June 2022.