2021 winners follow up: Jake Freestone, Arable Innovator of the Year

Jake Freestone was named Arable Innovator of the Year after impressing judges with his balance of biodiversity with profitable food production last year. A passionate communicator, he and his team have continued to make great strides forward. Emma Penny finds out more.

There has been no resting on laurels of any variety for Jake Freestone and his team at Overbury Enterprises since winning Arable Innovator of the Year at last year’s British Farming Awards. If anything, the level of innovation has gone up several gears – and into the wider community. Passionate about regenerative agriculture, with an enthusiasm to know more and to undertake research, Jake’s latest on-farm innovations include a project looking at further reducing nitrogen inputs and a continuing focus on using sheep as a key part of the arable enterprise. He is also involved in a new organisation which puts farmers in the driving seat of investment in carbon and natural capital. His role as farm manager near Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire, involves running 1,565 hectares of in-hand arable and grassland.


Combinable crops account for 950ha, including milling wheat, oilseed rape, beans, peas, linseed, quinoa and winter and spring malting barley. The farm has more than 300ha of permanent grassland and 67ha of herbal leys carrying 850 outdoor lambing ewes, with progeny sold as stores or fattened. It is also a Leaf demonstration farm. While judges praised Jake on his clear direction for the business and for exploring innovations, Jake is quick to point out the award was not about him. “Winning was a great morale boost for everyone on the farm,” he says. “Everyone has ideas, contributes and delivers and I couldn’t do it without them – it’s a team award.” The team’s focus on profitable food production has come into sharp focus this year with escalating fertiliser costs. Working with Kellogg’s and its Origins programme, they are looking at reducing N use – by as much as 30% in winter feed wheat and 40% on spring barley – though much greater use of soil nitrogen and tissue testing. They are also using soil probes and other technology to understand more about soil and crop biology. “We are doing lots of measuring and soil mineral N testing, which shows potentially available N. We are also using a Yara N sensor and testing chlorophyll levels in crops each week so we can apply N when crops are starting to run dry [of N].”

Learning curve

The sheep are another learning curve and have also continued to prove their worth as part of an arable system. “I am really excited about this as the benefits are huge.” The ewes went into forward winter wheat crops this autumn, grazing them right down and the crops now ‘look a picture’, he says. “We have lots to learn about using sheep to improve arable production, but I’m keen to push it. It provides clean grazing for the ewes and is great in terms of rooting and tillering for the crops. “It builds in resilience and addresses the climate change challenge though better rooting crops and nutrient scavenging, so we will do more of it.” Winning the award has prompted a lot of interest, he says. “We’ve had quite a few groups come for farm walks as a result. It’s allowing us to spread knowledge about regenerative farming and the more we can share the story, the better.” Sharing that story – and ensuring farmers are rewarded for the environmental and climate benefits it provides – is a key part of one of the biggest innovations for Jake, The Green Farm Collective. This new organisation, of which he is one of six farming founder members, aims to help farmers take control of any sale of carbon from their farming operation and allow businesses and individuals to invest in biodiversity on these farms.

Natural capital

The farming, carbon and natural capital data for the scheme is being recorded and organised via Trinity Agtech’s Sandy platform, with Trinity’s Natural Capital Markets division providing the platform for natural capital and carbon trading. Jake says it is an innovative approach which will help farmers connect with companies seeking to invest, helping to cut out the middleman. The group believes it will also keep money for such investment within the UK, where investors can see their biodiversity projects. “Why offset on trees on the other side of the world when you could support a local farmer to be more sustainable while improving the environment for both parties?” Along with the five other farmers in the group, Jake wants the organisation to be one where members are happy to share knowledge and help progress regenerative farming. “We want to create a community of like-minded farmers who are happy and willing to swap ideas and obtain collective benefits from improved farming systems,” he says.


It is clear there is no shortage of innovation and enthusiasm at Overbury Enterprises and the wider regenerative agriculture community, and that others in the sector will benefit. “It is nice to be in a positive place with all the challenges the sector is facing we have to stay positive.”