Q1: What are the soil management practices you developed?
We’ve been an all arable farm since
1974. Here, we have a thin soil, what’s
called a Cotswold brash, a calculous,
limestone soil. It’s a lovely, loamy
soil but there are a lot of stones in
it. More stones, in fact, than soil. We
have 200mm of top soil maximum. It’s
generous in some places and then
beneath you have a very rocky sub-soil.
So, with us there’s a problem with roots
getting moisture. The Cotswolds in
England has always been a grass area
known for sheep grazing. It’s not known
for big arable yields for the simple
reason that if you have a dry May or
June you would suffer badly.
When I came back from university in
1999, one of my drivers was to say
actually we need to improve the water
holding capacity of the soil. And I did
this in lots of different ways.
We’ve got a wide five-year rotation
with three cereals and two breaks such
as beans, rape seed and sometimes
oats. We have a mix of winter and
spring crops, so we’re not trying to get
everything in the winter or spring.
The big driver since I’ve been here
is putting a huge amount of organic
matter back into the earth. So, on 1100
acres of land around our core farm
we’d put up to 8000 tons of some form
of muck (organic manure) into the soil
We also have a five year mix of
cultivations to boost soil health: we
plough one year and give two years
apiece to direct drill and low till.
Like a lot of innovators we learnt about
the value of using cover or catch crops
by accident. One year we had spare
mustard seed and decided to use it
up by growing it between the harvest
of the winter crop and planting the
spring crop. Now, it’s a practice we use
frequently. This has helped us get good
at it and we have definitely seen great
results. For example, we can see how
the ground gets less saturated after
And from mid-September to mid-March,
we also get livestock from other farmers
to graze and cover those catch crops
off. Now we have cattle sheds here too.
So, we have grass in the rotation and
we get straw to the cattle and get the