Farmer will reveal 'blood, sweat and tears' of the Norfolk farming year

Jeremy Buxton with his Hereford cattle at Eves Hill Farm in Booton near Reepham

Jeremy Buxton with his Hereford cattle at Eves Hill Farm in Booton near Reepham - Credit: Denise Bradley

The "blood, sweat and tears" of the farming year will be revealed through the eyes of Norfolk farmer Jeremy Buxton in a new monthly EDP series. Here, he looks ahead to the challenges of 2022.

From animal emergencies and freak weather to financial pressures and tractor dramas, life on the farm is rarely dull.

But it is also a career with great responsibilities - to produce our food and care for our countryside.

So to find out more about this vital industry's challenges and successes, we will be revisiting a Norfolk farm every month during 2022 to witness the highs and lows of the year through a farmer's eyes.

That farmer will be Jeremy Buxton, of Eves Hill Farm at Booton, near Reepham - a diverse enterprise including grass-fed Hereford beef cattle, free-range egg-laying hens, arable fields, camping and glamping.

The 45-year-old returned to the family farm in 2012 after a very different life as a TV presenter with Eurosport in Paris.

He said the career change was "absolutely" the right choice - one which had given him a new sense of purpose which he is now keen to share with the public.

"The consumer's food doesn't just arrive on their plate - it takes a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get it there," he said. "So for me this is about educating the consumer.

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"I love what I do, and farming has given me a very clear vision of what my purpose is. It makes you think about the bigger picture.

"We are only here for a fraction of time, so land ownership comes with the responsibility of looking after it, and handing it on to the next generation in better health than you found it.

Jeremy Buxton at his farm in Booton near Reepham. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Jeremy Buxton at Eves Hill Farm in Booton near Reepham - Credit: Denise Bradley

"We are talking about soil, habitat, biodiversity, all of those things around us in the countryside.

"It is all very holistic, but we are also talking about a farming business. If it didn't stack up financially, then what would the point be?"

A year of change

2022 will be a year of change for the farm.

It is continuing what Mr Buxton calls a "regenerative farming journey", finding new ways to use livestock and cover crops to replenish the soils.

Plans are also under way to expand the glamping site and build a new farm shop this summer.

The need for alternative incomes is partly driven by the looming loss of EU subsidies -  currently paid through the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) - which are being phased out after Brexit in favour of a new system of environmental payments, still being developed by the government.

"That is going to be a loss, but I'm not that concerned about it because I have never been a massive fan of farming being subsidised anyway," said Mr Buxton. "I think as a business we need to stand on our own two feet.

"Our BPS is around £22,000 a year, which will be reduced to nothing over the next seven years.

"With the camping and glamping we took £20,000 last year - and that was not even a complete season. So by the time we add our extra glamping unit we will have replaced those BPS payments."

Jeremy Buxton with his chickens -  which are currently housed in a barn due to bird flu restrictions

Jeremy Buxton with his chickens -  which are currently housed in a barn due to bird flu restrictions - Credit: Denise Bradley

Environmental responsibilities

Climate change targets and the evolution of government policy towards green incentives have also made the environment a key focus of the farm.

"I honestly believe we are on the cusp of an agricultural revolution, because of climate change," said Mr Buxton. 

"What we have done for decades has placed us in this position where we have to change the way we farm if we are to have food production future, if we are to mitigate climate change and reverse it, and that is why we have decided to farm in the way that we are."

Mr Buxton said examples included the use of cover crops to improve the soil, while also providing winter food for cattle which also enrich the ground.

And the establishment of herb-enriched temporary grasslands has had an "amazing" impact on wildlife.  

"The cattle graze these herbal leys, then they are given three to four months rest - it is a huge area of cover and the numbers of small mammals rocketed. When the cattle went back on there were mice and voles running around everywhere, so now of course there are a lot more owls and kestrels too.

"That is all from just one little tweak in grazing management and integrating livestock into the arable rotation." 

Jeremy Buxton at Eves Hill Farm in Booton near ReephamEY

Jeremy Buxton at Eves Hill Farm in Booton near Reepham - Credit: Denise Bradley

Public perception

Mr Buxton said the farm also hopes to do more educational work with schools in the coming year, as well as bringing more consumers onto the farm through its retail and tourism activities.

"I think it is a shame that people don't have that contact with the people who are producing their food," he said.

"We want to bring people onto our farm and build a relationship, and once we have made that contact we can start talking to them about food production and debunking some of these myths about farming and show them what we are doing, and it is all good.

"We don't hear enough about the good stories. We don't hear about the regenerative farmers that are out-wintering cattle, producing grass-fed beef.

"Negativity breeds negativity and positivity breeds positivity. We have got to keep putting the positive messages out there and it will gain momentum."

Jeremy Buxton with eggs and meat joints produced at Eves Hill Farm in Booton near Reepham

Jeremy Buxton with eggs and meat joints produced at Eves Hill Farm in Booton near Reepham - Credit: Denise Bradley

Farm facts

  • Eves Hill Farm is a small family business of around 100 hectares at Booton, near Reepham.
  • It has 40 breeding Hereford cows, with an 80-strong cattle herd at the moment, grazing outdoors all year round.
  • The farm also has 200 laying hens, and there are plans to introduce some lambs this spring.
  • The arable fields grow a rotation of winter wheat, spring barley and spring beans.
  • Tourism diversifications include a campsite and glamping units.
  • Meat boxes are sold direct to consumers, with around 14 animals butchered per year, each producing 20 of the farm's 10kg beef boxes, plus extra meat cuts.
  • The farm has a long history of environmental schemes, and is awaiting confirmation of a new Countryside Stewardship deal in January which will help pay for measures including new hedgerows, herbal leys, field margins and new wildlife habitats.
  • Plans are being developed for a farm shop and tea room which Mr Buxton hopes to open in July. 
  • The long-term vision is to create a local "food hub", with a farm shop, bakery, butchery, micro-brewery and a market garden.
  • Mr Buxton manages the farm, and his wife Kathryn is taking on a larger role in the family partnership this year. The couple have a four-year-old son, Edward.

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