As featured in Arable Farming Magazine March 2021
Partnership delivering environmental benefits
by Arable Farming
Members of the Jordans Farm Partnership are creating connections along the supply chain to deliver environmental benefits on-farm. Chloe Palmer reports.
Being paid to create wildlife habitat alongside a premium crop sold to make products for a highly regarded brand sounds like the model for a progressive environmental scheme for the future.
This is precisely what the Jordans Farm Partnership means for its farmer members and they are all delighted to be part of it.
The scheme has been running in its current form for five years and many of the original members have now been signed up for a further five years.
Verity Wilks, responsible sourcing manager with Jordans, believes the success of the scheme is down to the partnership approach to design and delivery and the different incentives the farmers are offered.
She says: “The farmer works with their local Wildlife Trust adviser to develop a Whole Farm Plan which is specific to their farm, their local area, the soil type and landscape and the wildlife present.
“The farmers sign up and dedicate 10% of their farmed area to wildlife habitat; 5% of this must be either nectar and pollen mixtures or wild bird seed cover and the other 5% is habitat suited to the species and conditions on their farms,” she adds.
The farmers are awarded a small incentive payment for participating in the scheme, but they also receive support from their local Wildlife Trust and are required to become members of Leaf and sign up to the Leaf Marque standards, which include carrying out a Whole Farm Review annually.
“The Wildlife Trust advisers provide guidance relating to habitat around the crops, whereas Leaf offers tools and support to help the farmer minimise the environmental impact resulting from managing in-field crops.
The farmers complete a Leaf audit and the Wildlife Trust audits a sample of the growers each year.
“The information gained from these audits helps us to feel confident about the credibility of the scheme and it also offers a qualitative perspective regarding what has been achieved, thus validating our involvement.
For the farmers, the audit provides positive feedback to them but can give them a little nudge to continually challenge them so they achieve even more,” Mrs Wilks says.
Jordans also organises events for members through the Wildlife Trust and Leaf.
These are an opportunity for members to visit other partnership members’ farms and share ideas and experience of techniques and approaches which have worked well.
Several of the farmers in the partnership are also signed up to a Government stewardship scheme and Mrs Wilks views this as a positive, believing their scheme can open up multiple income streams to fund the various environmental projects on-farm.
Jordans has showcased this model to members of the Defra team developing Environmental Land Management schemes (ELMs), as a possible blueprint for the future.
“We think our scheme works really well and we are passionate about what we are doing.
We want to grow our level of engagement with farmers and our customers and communicate what the scheme is achieving.
“Ultimately, the more people that buy Jordans cereals the more oats we will need and the more farmers we can bring into the programme,” says Mrs Wilks.
In the field Graham Birch and Scott Bagwell, Dorset
Graham Birch owns a mixed holding extending to 860 hectares near Winterborne Stickland, Dorset.
Following a career in investment banking in the city, Dr Birch bought his first farm in 2007 which came complete with farm manager, Scott Bagwell.
He says his non-farming background means he sees the farm primarily as a business but also admits he soon realised farming was not just about producing as much as possible.
“I began to see it was feasible to farm with a conservation dimension to ensure we were not damaging the environment.
I had no desire to go organic, but rather I wanted to make room for wildlife and valuable habitat around the productive areas.
“So, when I heard about the Jordans Farm Partnership [JFP] it really resonated with me.
Not only were they supporting their growers to care for the environment, but it also meant we had a direct connection to our customer.
“When I came to the farm, I was told it was not in an environmental scheme because there was nothing of interest here.
I have discovered this is completely untrue and we soon entered a Higher Level Stewardship scheme (HLS).
“The HLS integrates well with the partnership work we are doing and like most JFP farms we are doing far more than we have signed up to do.
One of the biggest successes has been the work we have done to encourage corn buntings back on the farm.
“This species has been in decline because as harvests have become earlier in the summer, they cannot fledge their young in time.
We have created habitat for them and now we have a phenomenal number breeding on the farm.
“When I arrived, Scott, our farm manager, knew nothing about wildlife but now he is passionate about the successes we have here and makes most of the suggestions.
He manages the wildlife habitat we create like a crop, considering how it can be managed to exactly meet our objectives.
“For example, we have wildflower margins around the arable fields and we have found grazing with sheep over the autumn and winter promotes greater species diversity.
After harvesting the cereal crops, we will drill stubble turnips and then the sheep can be turned into the field to eat the turnips and graze the margins.
“One of the strengths of the partnership is the support we receive from Jordans.
Our grain buyer Bob Pope and his agronomist Rosemary Hall give us very useful feedback on the agronomy which will work best for each oat variety and on factors influencing grain quality.
“The JFP also provides us with a dedicated adviser from Dorset Wildlife Trust, Emily Newton, and she comes to our farm regularly to give guidance on how we are managing habitats.
She organises breeding bird and botanical surveys which inform our work.” Dr Birch adds there are some restrictions, such as the prohibition on using glyphosate as a desiccant on the oats at harvest, but he says it is a balance.
Overall, he says he is very pleased with the scheme.
“I hope the JFP continues.
What Jordans have done is really powerful and I wish we had more customers like them.”
In the field Guy Tucker, Greenhall Farm, Bramfield, Hertfordshire
Guy Tucker is a third generation farmer at Greenhall Farm and now farms 486ha of arable land, predominantly on a tenancy but with one block owned.
Mr Tucker has always had an interest in the environment, having been in agri-environment schemes for 20 years and also running his own ecological mitigation company.
He has supplied oats to Jordans for 10 years but has supplied them exclusively since joining the Jordans Farm Partnership.
Unlike many farms in the partnership, he is no longer in a stewardship agreement after his Higher Level Scheme ended and he found the Mid Tier scheme was not flexible enough for the needs of the farm.
Despite this, Mr Tucker has continued to devote a significant area of his farm to wildlife and says the scheme works very well for him.
“We have become used to not farming the areas we set aside for wildlife.
For example, we have a 5ha field which is on very light, gravelly soil, plus it is an awkward shape and areas like these are best farmed for wildlife,” he says.
“This farm has a large number of woodlands and the field edges next to them tend to be heavily shaded so will not produce much.
We have sown down six-metre grass margins here and they now contain a wide range of species.
“We have established pollen and nectar and wild bird seed mixes across the farm and while it can be challenging to establish some areas, when we get it right, it is fantastic.
The British Trust for Ornithology came to do some netting in one of the wild bird seed areas and they recorded the largest number of bramblings observed in the county.
“We have an audit each year which is carried out by our local Wildlife Trust ecologist, Matt Dodds.
I really look forward to this day because Matt’s level of knowledge is exceptional and I learn a lot.
“I am just an amateur, but a very enthusiastic one, and when I think I am making a difference for wildlife it is very rewarding.”
Mr Tucker also considers the link with Leaf as very positive as it means he now does an annual Whole Farm Review.
He says: “The Whole Farm Review has been an excellent tool for keeping track of our performance in terms of all aspects of our environmental management, including energy use, soil health and wildlife habitat creation.
It teases out this information and places it into a format which allows us to look at what we can do better.” Looking to the future, Mr Tucker thinks he may look again at entering the Countryside Stewardship Scheme but in the meantime is delighted to be part of the Jordans Farm Partnership.
“I can see the logic in the Jordans approach as we are growing and selling a premium product and delivering environmental benefits with it and Jordans are prepared to pay us more for doing this.
They want our input into the scheme moving forward so it is a virtuous circle.”