Martin, Juliette and Matt Lines

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Martin Lines farms in partnership with his wife Juliet and son Matthew to grow mainly winter cereals on their family farm, managing some contract farm agreements and renting additional land to bring farm area up to 540 hectares (1,334 acres).

For more than 10 years, Martin’s farm was in the old Countryside Stewardship Scheme to try to improve the natural habitat for wildlife on-farm and restore hedges which had previously been removed. He established grass strips alongsidehedges, ditches and field boundaries, which has resulted in a significant increase in wildlife.

The soil is chalky boulder clay at 65 per cent clay content and grows a wide rotation of wheat, winter barley, spring barley, beans, oats and OSR.

Martin, who is chair of the Nature Friendly Farming Network, uses soil sampling for nitrogen, hand held tissue analysis, lab analysis and biomass imagery from satellites to reduce the use of fertilisers.

Insecticides are no longer used and there are flower margins every 90 or 120 metres across large fields and around the outside of small fields. GPS is used for placement of inputs and inflation tyre technology is used in all
machinery, with further investment in tracks to minimise soil damage.

Chicken manure has been used to improve soil and replace artificial fertiliser, along with cover cropping and direct drilling. Martin has brought in sheep to graze cover crops in winter, adding fertility and biology into the
soil. His cover crop mixes include buckwheat, phacelia, sunflower, vetch, linseed, fodder radish and crimson clover. They work to benefit the soil health, produce and grow nutrients, harvest the sunlight and turn it into
organic material to help increase the soil’s organic content.

About nine years ago, Martin decided to see what he could to control pests without insecticides and monitor the impact on yields and profit margins. As a result, he has broadened the range of crops he grows, with no fixed rotation – tailoring cropping in each field to help with weed pressure and soil health.

Pest-resistant varieties are used where possible and there has been a return to more traditional cropping intervals – with five or six years between OSR crops.

Cereals are drilled after mid October if weather allows, rather than September, to reduce black-grass and autumn aphid pressure.

Avoiding over-feeding crops with fertiliser in one application prevents rapid growth and makes the crop more resistant to pests and disease.

Overall, crop yields are a little lower, but this is more than made up for by the reduction in costs of production and the net margins are up.

What the Judges said

Martin Lines lives and breathes sustainability with a particular focus on nature and biodiversity recovery. He formed the Nature Friendly Farming Network with a view to shining a light on the positive role farming can play in restoring and boosting the environment and helping other farmers do the same. Stressing he is accountable to the supply chain and consumers, he believes the changes he has brought in since taking over from his father has made the business more resilient, highlighting weather shocks. He hosts school visits and speaks to different groups and societies three to four times a month to communicate and share best practice, inform, inspire and engage with people from non-farming backgrounds. He has also hosted policymakers to see how farming with nature at its heart can be done profitably. Judges said Martin’s standard of sustainable arable farming was exemplar and not only was a great benefit to the natural world but also shored up his business for future generations.