Farming for profit, people and the planet
As featured in Arable Farming Magazine
Farming for profit, people and the planet
by Arable Farming Magazine 2022 issue
A new award has been launched to celebrate farmers who strike a balance between the three pillars of sustainability.
Lincolnshire farmer Colin Chappell is the recipient of the inaugural Rawcliffe Bridge Award for sustainability.
The award was launched to coincide with a celebration of 20 years of ongoing biodiversity and advocacy work at Rawcliffe Bridge, Yorkshire, in partnership with BASF and host farmers, the Hinchliffe family.
The judges from BASF, Farm 491 and the Institute of Agricultural Management, together with grower Richard Hinchliffe, of Rawcliffe Bridge Farm, had a difficult job choosing between the two finalists, with Mr Chappell just edging ahead of Guy Prudom, of Northfields Farm, North Yorkshire.
Mr Chappell, of Gander Farm near Brigg in north Lincoln shire, says: I am unusually lost for words.
I know some of the people who applied for this award and to have pipped them all is incredible.
It was an honour to have been in the final with Mr Prudom and as soon as harvest is over, I want to go and see his farm and see what I can learn from him.
Mr Chappell and his family farm on the banks of the River Ancholme, where they own 400 hectares of predominantly arable clay land, with some permanent pasture.
They contract farm a further 160ha of sandy soil, 120ha on a tenancy agreement, plus 80ha for a neighbour and have recently taken on a further 60ha of arable land.
His focus for the last two years has been on reducing nitrogen inputs, using pulses and oilseed rape in the rotation to help maintain natural levels in the soil.
He continuously monitors his soil and carbon and reviews each field on an individual basis.
He is also a keen advocate of the Bentazone Stewardship campaign and works with the local water company to monitor levels and ensure he is not applying the herbicide in a high-risk zone.
For Mr Chappell, âsustainability means farming within his own means so he can make a living for his family, while also looking after the environment and the water that surrounds them.
We need to have a conversation about sustainably producing food, while also caring for the environment, the water and the people around us that is what it is all about. That is true sustainability, he says.
Mr Chappell impressed judges with his engagement with carbon and soil monitoring, implementation of multiple wildlife schemes and his approach to reducing nitrogen, but, above all, his dedication to community.
Mr Hinchliffe says: The thing that really impressed me about Mr Chappells set-up is what he did with some economically deprived children from the local area, bringing them on-farm and engaging with them about agriculture and where their food comes from, and you could really see the passion he had for this. We had two fantastic finalists but a really special winner.
Runner-up Mr Prudom farms in partner ship with his parents on the edge of the North Yorkshire Moors, Whitby, renting just over 400ha, predominantly from the Mulgrave Estate.
The main enterprise is a lowland arable unit where the family also finish suckler cattle.
In their arable rotation, they grow 90ha of oilseed rape and winter wheat as cash crops, with the remaining 70ha consisting of spring oats, winter and spring barley, and spring beans which are fed to the finishing cattle.
All crops are established by strip-till and autumn-sown cover crops are established in front of spring-sown crops with a strong focus on mustards.
The Prudom family believes in on-farm trials and regularly experiments with different crops and varieties to ensure they are growing the best option for the soil and their profit margin.
This year they grew a field of spring beans and peas in a mix, as well as a mixture of spring barley and oats. Other trials include five years of precision soil testing.
Their additional two units, High Burrows and Davison Farm, are both upland permanent pasture where they run a paddock grazing system, to help maximise grass use and minimise fertiliser requirements.
Asked why he entered the award, Mr Prudom says: It adds justification and gives us confidence that what we are doing here is right.
We got through to the final and that has shown the whole team from my parents to the contractors, agronomist, vets and consultants that we are on the right track to a sustainable system.
Its not just for my personal gain, it is for everyone involved.
BASF agricultural sustainability manager Mike Green highlights both finalists long-term commitment to sustainability and a whole-farm approach.
Mr Chappell and Mr Prudom demonstrate a long-term commitment to sustainability, looking at a whole-farm approach.
They are continuously assessing and reviewing their practices and invest time in trials and data, so they have a clear understanding of what works best for their landscape.
All the judges were impressed by their passion for the environment, while also demonstrating a focus on financial stability and the willingness to adapt their operations to meet the changing needs of the industry.
With a celebration of 20 years of work at Rawcliffe Bridge planned, BASF wanted to find a way of recording the value that farmers put on sustainability in their businesses and to find a way of celebrating them for the work they do, adds Mr Green.
There are a lot of people who claim to be sustainable, are incredibly technically competent and are supporting biodiversity on-farm, but maybe arent interacting with the social side.
We wanted to have a competition which recognises that there are three legs to the stool of sustainability: economic, environment and societal, and you have to be supporting all three of them to keep it steady., says Mr Green.
In the field The Rawcliffe Bridge Project, Yorkshire
The Rawcliffe Bridge Project was developed by BASF and the Hinchliffe family to understand how to balance intensive farming and wildlife management.
Over the last 20 years it has captured extensive data and welcomed thousands of visitors to learn how a productive arable farm can improve the natural environment, without sacrificing yield and profit.
At an open day held as part of its 20-year celebrations, contributors to the project reflected on the past two decades and looked to the challenges ahead.
Host farmer Richard Hinchliffe reflected that the big thing he had noticed over his 20 years of farming was climate change.
As a business, weve got to become more resilient to these changes, he says.
At Rawcliffe Bridge, no-till is helping the family build resilience into their farming system by slowly building soil organic matter.
Mr Hinchliffe says: Weve diversified our rotations to fit our no-till system. Everything that we do we are trying to build resilience into.
To be able to put a crop in now with the price of tractor diesel at £1.20/litre and establish a winter wheat crop for seven litres a hectare is quite a nice thing to do.
Were capable of growing big crops here; its grade 1 and 2 land and we grow big crops, but our aspiration is to grow as big a crop as possible using as few resources as possible and that is sustainability in my book.
Im using technology to look at the weather patterns, weather stations and modelling to look at septoria and yellow rust cycles and also when picking varieties.
Soil expert Prof Jenni Dungait shared news of a new project just getting underway at the farm to look at how soil can be better managed to grow food and retain carbon.
The project will see the same crop grown under the same management regime but on two soil types.
The warp soils at Rawcliffe Bridge are an example of how engineering had provided a way of improving soil quality and productivity, says Prof Dungait.
The topsoil on the farm is warp, which has come from the River Ouse rising, being allowed to flood onto the land, cover the soil and then drain off, leaving a nutrient-rich layer, which is absolutely fantastic for growing crops.
And thats a human engineering technology that we seem to have forgotten about.
This is a resource that can be used.
You can manipulate things; you can use the climate and flooding to bring nature-rich soil onto your farm and use it to grow great wheat.
Agronomist and ecologist Marek Nowakowski has been recording insects and plants at Rawcliffe Bridge and sister project farm The Grange in Northamptonshire since 2018.
The two farms are very different.
Rawcliffe has no hedges, is an open exposed site with a wind farm nearby. There are plenty of ditches with grass sides, but no flower areas have been sown. The Grange has smaller fields bounded by tall hedges. It has a wealth of different sown habitats.
Rawcliffes light soil and exposed site make life difficult for smaller, solitary mining and cavity bees, so few are recorded, adds Mr Nowakowski.
On the other hand, butterflies and bumblebees do well as they are stronger flyers.
Grange Farm is a more protected, heavy land farm, so the smaller bees are more numerous.
Solitary bees can dig nest shafts into the heavy soils that do not collapse as they do in lighter soil.
More recording is needed to strengthen the data, but the work so far underlines the importance of landscape, location and quality flower habitats that provide good opportunities for bees and butterflies, he says.
Its good habitat were short of. Flowering plants need to deliver pollen and nectar from March to the end of August.
These recordings demonstrate that profitable, working farms can, with the right habitats, deliver a variety of wildlife.
Farmers need better environmental training, together with more realistic payments that are linked to delivery.