Farmers demonstrate how #FarmingCAN be profitable and climate-friendly
#farmingCAN is an innovative campaign from Farmers Guardian which looks to highlight the important role of farming to the British public. Over 12 months the campaign will focus on various issues affecting farming and Britain as a whole to look at how #farmingCAN support a better future for all.
#farmingCAN – IN THE FIELD: Tom Akrigg, Yorkshire Dales
Manor Farm is a traditional sheep and beef enterprise in the Yorkshire Dales run by Tom Akrigg and his family. The land includes blanket bog and wetland – two of the most carbon and nature-rich ecosystems.
Hay meadows are managed as they were centuries ago, without artificial inputs and cut late in the year. Limestone grassland and rush pasture are sympathetically grazed by Swaledale sheep and support an array of breeding waders, including lapwing and the endangered curlew.
Ten years ago, the Akrigg family worked with the National Trust and the Yorkshire Peat Partnership to improve an expanse of peatland. This included smoothing out, or ‘reprofiling’, peat hags – a type of erosion that causes steep overhangs in the peat and makes it vulnerable to further wear. Sphagnum mosses were allowed to develop and now cloak the landscape, sucking in carbon.
Mr Akrigg said: “It was pioneering for its time.”
Climate change mitigation was not the driver behind the family’s participation in schemes like this – but they have a strong conservation interest and their willingness to get involved has yielded unforeseen benefits at times. Being at the head of the catchment, the farm does not feel the effects of flooding, but Mr Akrigg is aware of the damage neighbours have faced.
He is trialling natural flood management solutions, including riparian planting and bunds and scrapes to intercept rainwater run-off.
He said: “For me, it is about showing that farming can deliver environmental and public benefits and still be productive and fit with our traditional ethos. We are choosing options that have multiple benefits.”
Martin Davies, the National Trust’s general manager in the Yorkshire Dales, added: “We have a rich tapestry of habitats in the Dales, from hay meadows to blanket bog that’s thousands of years old.
“These landscapes are not just good for nature, they are an important tool for tackling climate change. We are pleased to be working in partnership with our tenant farmers to achieve long term benefits, such as reducing flood risk downstream and locking away carbon.”
#farmingCAN: Llyr Jones, Denbighshire
Llyr Jones, farms near Corwe, Denbighshire, alongside his wife, Emma.
The family runs a flock of 1,100 sheep and around 250 dairy heifers. In recent years, Mr Jones has operated a rotational grazing system for his cattle, citing the main benefits for doing so as increased carbon storage, improved soil health and decreased worm burden for his stock.
In 2015 he developed a 16,000-hen free-range egg unit on-farm, supplying Tesco. The new facilities include scrubbers to reduce ammonia emissions from the site by an estimated 90 per cent. The poultry business does not use any mains water, with all water harvested from an on-farm borehole.
The whole site is powered through renewable energy, largely thanks to the 30kW hydroelectric system he has had installed in 2012 on a stream on-farm, with 24kW photovoltaic panels providing a back-up source of renewable energy when warm weather reduces the flow of water to the hydro system.
Mr Jones said: “Here in Wales we are so lucky with our environment. We have a huge amount of rain and big hills here, which are great ingredients for producing hydroelectricity. It is great we can harness this green energy to produce more food while limiting our impact on the environment.”
IN THE FIELD: James Hopkinson, Vale of Strathmore, Angus
James is one of five farmers working in the Soil Regenerative Agriculture Group, set up in 2019 to share knowledge on soil health improvement.
He started his transition to soil-friendly practices in 2016 and within two years, began to see the benefits of the systems he employed.
“When it comes to soil, I am not particularly scientific about it. I like to use my spade, my eyes, my hands and my nose. For me, the decisions made on the level of tillage required is all based on the time I spend in the field with my spade, where it reveals my success or failure. This time aids me in deciding on the appropriate level of tillage and drilling techniques, or where nutrients are needed. A soil regenerative system is a long-term approach. There are some short-term benefits, such as lower fuel consumption, but the real benefits come much later, as seen through better soil drainage, carrying capacity, nutrient retention and input reduction.”
His system creates a year-round cover across the farm, in most instances for wildlife, and 10 per cent of productive areas around every field have been put down to permanent cover for wildlife habitats, which is beneficial to a variety of wildlife, insects and pollinators.
“The challenge has been in managing the transition from conventional to regenerative and retaining a viable, profitable business at the same time as reducing the very inputs which have provided us with consistent yields, and in most cases, profitability in the past,” he said.
“But with reduced inputs comes reduced borrowing and spend, which in turn, improves cash flow. The challenge is in striking the balance between reduced yields and return.
“Every farm business is different, and it was important to understand our financial position, so we could temper our transition and cut back accordingly.”