Sustainability and Science
Sustainable agriculture and its role in the future of farming is currently the focus of much debate in Britain with repeated calls for agriculture to become more sustainable. Our visits on June 4th will focus on farmers and organisations who are trialling and pioneering new, more sustainable management strategies and systems.
Wheatsheaf Farming Company
Managed by Scholar, David Millar, the Wheatsheaf Farming Company is a contract farming business cropping six farms (3,954 acres) in Hampshire on behalf of owners and tenants. David is determined to improve soil health and in doing so establish a business that will be more resilient, both in terms of the weather and periods of low prices. “There was a reliance on having ‘a good year’ every year to make a profit,’ says David. “We were also seeing a plateauing of crop yields.” A complete overhaul of the farming system was called for and resulted in the wholesale switch away from a traditional cereals/ oilseed rotation to one based on zero-tillage and cereal catch/cover, using cover crop roots to do the cultivations instead of metal. David is a 1999 Nuffield Scholar and was nominated ‘Arable Farmer of the Year’ by Farmers Weekly in 2015.
In 2012, Tim May’s Nuffield Scholarship findings led the 2,500-acre Kingsclere Estate he manages to re-think its arable cropping. “After 10 years of an ‘all arable’ farming business, it was becoming increasingly difficult to maintain yields,” says Tim. “It was clear that the soil, the foundation of any farming system, was becoming lifeless and a new approach was required.” Farming alternatives with complementary synergies were investigated and the decision taken to move to a more diverse, mixed farming system. Just under half of the farm area was taken out of arable production and put into four-year mixed herbal and red clover leys. To further aid soil improvement and maintain the economic output from these leys, a 1,700-strong flock of breeding ewes and a 150-head beef herd were also introduced. (www.kingsclere-estate.co.uk + www.fairfarmfare.co.uk)
University of Reading
The University of Reading is at the forefront of research into sustainable production systems and the environment. Investigations are underway to examine the interaction of crops with the environment using specialist facilities, including rain-out shelters for inducing drought treatments and covers for inducing heat stress in the field. The effects of farming on biodiversity are also being explored, with field trials underway on the impact of crop rotations and below-ground biodiversity (as part of the EU funded Liberation Project), as well as studies looking at the interactions between pollinators, crops and the wider environment. On our visit we will privileged to see some of this groundbreaking research and to discuss its wider implications for agriculture and future farming systems. (www.reading.ac.uk)
Hall Hunter Partnership
The Hall Hunter Partnership is a leading family business - located in Berkshire, Surrey and West Sussex - growing strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries for some of the major UK retailers, including Waitrose, Marks & Spencer and Tesco. The produce is marketed through Farm Fresh PO (FFPO), a group of 12 business supplying fresh produce to the retail sector. Hall Hunter grow some of the best quality soft fruit available in the UK, with production spread across seven sites - four traditional farms and three glasshouses. During the harvest season the company employs over 2,000 workers. (www.hallhunter.co.uk)
Windsor Castle and The Savill Garden
Windsor Castle is the oldest and largest inhabited castle in the
world. It has been the family home of British kings and queens for
almost 1,000 years. It is an official residence of Her Majesty The
Queen, whose standard flies from the Round Tower when she is in
residence. Part of Windsor Great Park and one of Britain's finest
award-winning ornamental gardens, The Savill Garden is a true wonder.
It's a garden for all seasons and a place of beauty and colour that's
loved by horticulturalists and enthusiasts alike. Visitors can journey
through 35 acres of interconnecting gardens and exotic woodland. Every
garden has its own unique attraction, featuring a distinctive group of
plants that introduce a fresh burst of vibrant colour throughout
the seasons. (www.royalcollection.org.uk + www.windsorgreatpark.co.uk)