Next generation must seek the middle ground, says Raveningham Estate manager

Raveningham Estate manager Jake Fiennes talks to Yield Network members about the farm's Sussex cattl

Raveningham Estate manager Jake Fiennes talks to Yield Network members about the farm's Sussex cattle. - Credit: Archant

The next generation of farming custodians must seek the sustainable 'middle ground' between intensive farming and conservation – according to the manager of a south Norfolk estate.

YIELD Network visit to Raveningham Estate. Pictured: Floating solar panels on an irrigation reservoi

YIELD Network visit to Raveningham Estate. Pictured: Floating solar panels on an irrigation reservoir. - Credit: Archant

About 40 young professionals visited the Raveningham Estate for a farm walk, hosted by Sir Nicholas Bacon and organised through the Yield Network.

They were shown how environmental measures, woodland management and renewable energy projects were incorporated alongside the commercial arable operations within the 5,500-acre estate, which also has a pedigree beef suckler herd of Sussex cattle.

Estate manager Jake Fiennes said at a time of low commodity prices, the subsidised environmental stewardship schemes were 'probably the most profitable part of the farm'.

But he urged his visitors to value profit and resource protection equally, reminding them of their responsibilities as they became the farm managers of the future.

YIELD Network visit to Raveningham Estate. Pictured: Sir Nicholas Bacon (centre) talks to the visito

YIELD Network visit to Raveningham Estate. Pictured: Sir Nicholas Bacon (centre) talks to the visitors. - Credit: Archant

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'We think it is our duty as custodians of the soil, water, land, species, environments and habitats, that we try and put as much effort into the environmental commitment as we do with our cereal and root crops,' he said.

'You are the next generation of the custodians and farmers of the countryside. It is on your shoulders to care for our countryside.

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'To increase yields for an ever-increasing population, you don't just need to look at the bottom line and the quantity of what you want to produce, but also the care and maintenance of what we share our future careers with.

'The principle is we cannot napalm everything with herbicides and fungicides and agro-chemicals. But equally you cannot reduce your stocking rate to a level that is uneconomical from a sustainable farming point of view.

'We have 'Taliban farmers' and we have 'Taliban conservationists', but we need to find the middle ground.

'NIAB (the National Institute of Agricultural Botany) are the ones promoting the middle ground. I went to a meeting with NIAB and Morley Research and heard what they are doing for cover crops and catch crops, and the benefit of holding nutrients in the soil, and the prevention of soil erosion and diffuse pollution.

'Food production and environmental production are two different things, but we can work the two together. You can have high quality, high-yielding crops in the centre of the field, on the outside you can have rich habitats for flora and fauna and all these different species. That is the balance.'

Floating solar panels

The Raveningham Estate's renewable energy projects includes a raft of solar panels floating on the surface of a 21-million gallon irrigation reservoir.

Estate manager Jake Fiennes said the 190 panels, installed at a cost of £70,000 in December, were capable of generating 350kW 'on a good day', and were a good example of how the commercial and environmental aspects of the farm could dovetail together.

'Of all the renewables we have got, this is the one that pays off in a business sense,' he said.

'80pc of the electricity is produced in the key summer months from May to July, and that is my peak production time. On an irrigation reservoir it is also my peak requirement for pumping water, and my peak usage of electricity.

'I have big pumps serving 60 acres of sprinkler systems on potatoes, and six irrigators. The electricity needed to pump that volume of water – 30 million gallons in a 10-week period – is about £6,000, and the panels will wipe that cost off.

'So there is a saving of £6,000 a year, and on top of that I am being paid per kilowatt by the government (through the Feed In Tariff) because I am producing renewable energy.'

The Yield Network

Yield stands for Young, Innovative, Enterprising, Learning and Developing. The network was formed in 2014 with the support of the Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association (RNAA) to provide an informal platform for debate and to combine professional development and training with the opportunity for farming professionals to socialise. There are currently about 50 members, aged 20 to 45.

At the Raveningham farm walk, Yield chairman Robert Alston, who is also a trustee of the RNAA, said: 'The phrase that is often used is 'social with purpose'. It is basically a business networking group for rural industry professionals. It is not just farmers – probably about 50pc are farmers or farm managers, but there are other professionals like lawyers, accountants, land agents and solicitors who are here to learn about the industry.

'The other thing is about training and development. If they want to do anything from business management training all the way through to a full Nuffield scholarship, then the RNAA has got funds to help them get access to that training.'

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