Famous roots, but focusing on the future - Norfolk's champion farm for 2019 is revealed
PUBLISHED: 05:31 29 June 2019 | UPDATED: 05:31 29 June 2019
Norfolk's champion farm business for 2019 is an estate steeped in agricultural history - but it is focusing on the future with a youth development drive and a pledge to reduce artificial chemical use.
The Holkham Farming Company has been crowned supreme champion in this year's Norfolk County Farm Business competition, run by the Aylsham Agricultural Show Association.
It is part of the estate near Wells owned by the Earl of Leicester, whose ancestor Coke of Norfolk was a key figure in the agricultural revolution of the 18th century. And that instinct to innovate remains a key factor in the success of the modern business today.
Farm manager James Beamish said Lord Leicester has challenged his team to farm without pesticides by 2030 - prompting the creation of a 100ha test bed for trials of resistant varieties, "regenerative" cropping and integrating livestock into the rotation.
The business, which also claimed the competition's livestock cup, is investing £1.5m in winter housing to centralise the expanding beef herd which helps return organic matter to the soil, as well as grazing Holkham's national nature reserve.
Mr Beamish said this was an illustration of the close co-operation between the estate's conservation and food production functions.
"Lord Leicester wants good sustainable food to be produced, but not at a cost to the environment," he said. "He has laid down the gauntlet and given us the challenge of farming without pesticides by 2030. We have got to be smarter in how we farm to achieve that, and it comes back to what we are doing with our rotation and our organic manures.
"One of our 15 tenant farmers has got some land on a FBT (farm business tenancy) which is coming back in-house in October, so we are going to use this 100ha as a little experimental block.
"We are going to try regenerative crops and companion cropping, we are going to put pollinator strips in, we are going to try and amalgamate the conservation and food production even more than we are already doing, and what works over there will feed onto the rest of the estate. It will have its own P&L (profit and loss statement) and its own set of yield graphs both for conservation and food production. We will bring livestock into that rotation as well, just try some experiments.
"We are going to look at purely using varieties with their own pest resistance and disease resistance in them, to really try to decrease the amount of inputs we put into those crops.
"We are on the back of the golden age of the pesticide can and the fertiliser bag, and where has that brought us to? We are no better farmers now than we were at the start of the Common Agricultural Policy."
The 3,500ha farm produces malting barley for major brewers including Adnams and Marston's, and 400ha of potatoes in partnership with Emerald Crops.
And alongside the arable projects, livestock manager Jon Smith is gradually building up the 800-strong beef herd to the 1,000 head needed to meet the grazing requirements of the estate's grassland and nature reserves. From this autumn, the animals will find winter accommodation in the £1.5m new cattle shed which is nearing completion.
Mr Beamish said the income from the beef business alone would not justify that cost - but the investment proved how highly the estate values its animals' ability to manage grassland within the nature reserve and return organic manure into the arable soils.
NURTURING THE NEXT GENERATION
Mr Beamish said the championship title was an accolade for his entire 15-strong team, which is soon to be boosted by more fresh faces in the company's three-year farming graduate programme, founded to equip enthusiastic youngsters from agricultural colleges and universities with the practical skills, experience and qualifications they need to build their careers.
"We've got our core team of experienced guys here who are the backbone of what we do," he said. "But all of us in the agricultural industry struggling a little bit with the pipeline of good candidates coming through, so we put together the farming graduate programme.
"We could really see the benefit of bringing in people who are eager to learn, and putting them on a training programme. There is a wider benefit to the industry and, even if they don't stay with us afterwards, for however long these guys stay with us we get the benefit of that because they are hungry to learn, they keep me on my toes and they are up to date with all the new technology and innovation that is coming through."
FARM BUSINESS COMPETITION: FULL RESULTS
Champion: Holkham Farming Co.
Reserve: Albanwise Farming.
Livestock (The Jubilee Cup): Holkham Farming Co.
Class One: 1st Honingham Thorpe Farms, 2nd Stangroom Bros.
Class Two: 1st J F Temple and Son, 2nd Norman Farming Partnership.
Challenge Cup (under 160ha): Norman Farming Partnership.
Diversification (Stuart Chapman Bowl) Honingham Thorpe Farms.
- A celebratory farm walk will take place at the Holkham estate from 5.30pm on July 8, meeting at the central grain store at Egmere. For more details contact Robert Mitchell on firstname.lastname@example.org.