Ed Horton

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Gloucestershire, Ed Horton runs a hybrid system based upon amalgamating ideas from the organic sector and traditional farming methods to create a low-input but high gross margin system.

Cover crops and direct drilling are utilised as a way of improving soil structure and organic matter levels to reduce erosion and nitrate leaching. A cover crop is included within the rotation any time a field is not growing a cash crop.

Cover crops are terminated by sheep rather than chemicals, allowing Ed to add value to the crop by grazing and aiding a larger flock of sheep on-farm.

Further to integrating livestock into cover crops, Ed also uses sheep grazing as a disease control and growth regulator in cereal crops.

He says: “Every winter-sown cereal crop, including wheat, barley, oats, spelt, rye and triticale, all gets grazed hard by mobs of lambs in early spring to remove latent leaf infections.

As well as removing the need for fungicides, this also acts as a growth regulator, causing plants to root deeper and tiller more prolifically.”

The rotation has been widened to include 18 different combinable crops to enable the risk to be spread and allow different options to culturally control weeds before planting.

Ed says: “We can change rotations to manage weeds rather than relying on crop chemistry with a limited range of crops. The range of cropping also opens several new markets to us, allowing us to deal with individuals rather than grain buyers from a middleman.”

As well as using livestock to manage disease and growth regulation, 65 per cent nitrogen and 100 per cent phosphorus and potassium requirements are derived from organic manure attained from two neighbouring dairy units, farmyard manure from the beef herd and slurry from tenanted pig finishing units. Biodiversity is central to the farm, including a large Mid-Tier Countryside Stewardship scheme wrapping around the farming estate, aiming to push for biodiversity net gain.

After 10 years of Higher Level Stewardship, the farm is seeing real results in the number of farmland birds, such as bullfinches, golden plovers, lapwing, English partridges, as well as insect diversity and improved water quality.

What the Judges said

Good balance between profitability, sustainability and people; live cashflow= always abreast with finances; he goes out and finds his own information/does his own research and conducts his own trials but still takes external advice on board; uses a combination of factors with success e.g. using all tools in the box from ‘old fashioned methods’ like sheep to graze his arable crops but also the most up to date data platforms to aid decision making; knew his business inside out; uses social media to educate