Pioneering farm is growing eco-friendly wheat in pastures
- Credit: Wildfarmed / Wild Ken Hill
A west Norfolk farming estate is sowing wheat within a pioneering "pasture cropping" system in a bid to grow more environmentally-friendly food.
Wild Ken Hill near Snettisham, which is home to a major rewilding and regenerative agriculture project as well as hosting this year's BBC Springwatch show, will switch half of its wheat production to pasture cropping for the forthcoming season.
It involves growing food crops in strips within a mixture of grasses, clovers and legumes called a herbage ley.
The system was developed by sustainable food firm Wildfarmed, which says it provides huge benefits to the environment, including carbon sequestration and greater biodiversity.
Some of the plants in the herbage ley can fix nitrogen back into the soil, providing nutrients for food crops and removing the need for synthetic fertilisers.
It also removes the need for ploughing, which can release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and damage soil structure.
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Instead, Wild Ken Hill will use specialist equipment including a new mower – one of only two in the country – to control the herbage ley, preventing it from crowding out the crops.
Nick Padwick, estate and farm director, said: "The Wildfarmed system allows us to build soil health following years of synthetic inputs and cultivations, reduce our carbon footprint and improve our farm biodiversity, as well as growing grains that will produce healthier food.
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"This new system will not only be good for our natural environment, but also for us as farmers – with a good price for this high-quality grain, and minimal cost requirements, we expect it to be more profitable than a conventional wheat crop."
Wild Ken Hill project manager Dominic Buscall added it was a "logical next step" on the estate's soil-friendly regenerative agriculture journey, which began around 10 years ago when it stopped using insecticide.
The harvested wheat is sold to Wildfarmed, which mills it for flour and sells it to restaurants, bakeries, schools and food processors, including Pophams, Jolene, and Willy’s Pies.
Wild Ken Hill aims to become a hub for this style of farming in Norfolk, with other farms dedicating land to the Wildfarmed system, taking the total in the area to around 250 acres in the first year.
Andy Cato, co-founder of Wildfarmed, said: “Ultimately, we need as many farmers as possible transitioning to more ecological methods of farming cereals.
"Norfolk, as the breadbasket of the UK, couldn’t be a more important part of the country to launch our vision of getting quality grains into the food supply chain, while leaving the land rich for future harvests."