James and Emma Loder-Symonds

2022 Arable Farmer of the Year

Non­ing­ton Farms Ltd

Soil health is a strong focus, with direct drilling, cover crops, manures and herbal leys used to improve organic matter and soil fertility. Crop health has improved noticeably as a result, dramatically reducing the spend per hectare on growing the crops. For example, winter wheat variable costs have dropped from £750/ha to £450/ha. James says: “By working with nature, rather than against it, we can still produce good quality food, while providing significant biodiversity gains.” The couple is keen to grow more crops for local markets and a good example is milling wheat, sold locally to bakers, as well as donating to a local charity which helps vulnerable groups learn how to bake bread.

Countryside Stewardship Scheme (CSS) areas have been increased to 10-30 per cent of total land area and the biodiversity benefits have been huge. By renewing CSS agreements in 2021, the family has guaranteed income which will last until 2026. Signing up for the Sustainable Farming Incentive has given another guaranteed income over the next three years, giving a buffer time to minimise reliance on subsidies.

Currently, the business sells 20 per cent of its wheat with a Leaf Marque premium, a figure they aim to grow to 100 per cent over the next five years. Nonington has been a Leaf demonstration farm since 2020. “By stacking a mixture of enterprises we will be able to make the farm truly sustainable,” says James. “Once a universal standard has been agreed, we will sign up for selling our carbon credits.” Nitrogen testing and only applying when there is a crop need has played an important part, as has adding pulses and legume options into the rotation.

Sustainable practices

  • Small flock of sheep grazing herbal leys and cover crops, then slaughtered close to the farm and lamb sold locally
  • Insulating grain tunnels has reduced gas usage by 20 per cent
  • Nitrogen testing
  • Installing solar panels on grain store
  • Identifying and reducing diesel usage

What the judges said:

“The team at Nonington Farms demonstrated focus, belief and confidence in the clear path they have set out for their farming business. Every aspect of the way the farm is managed from social, environmental and economic is extremely well thought out, and benefitted not just them, but the farming and wider community, with each team member working to their strengths. Despite farming in one of the driest parts of the country, their use of technology, alongside nature, they are ever adapting their approach to profitable and sustainable crop production while creating a business model that supports new entrants and engages with the local public and wider consumers.”

On winning, James and Emma said: 

“It’s very exciting. All our hard work and everything we have done to improve and streamline the business has paid off. We couldn’t quite believe someone had nominated us for the award but its nice to know other people see what we see for the business and its future.”