Colin Chappell

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On the banks of the River Ancholme in northern Lincolnshire, Colin Chappell and his family farm 645 hectares of arable land, adopting a conservation and regenerative farming system.

Working in a ‘partnership with nature’, the farm grows a wide rotation, including milling wheat, feed and biscuit wheat, oilseed rape, milling oats, marrowfat peas, vining peas and beans.

Forage barley and maize are produced for an anaerobic digestion plant located next door and, currently, 5.5 per cent of the farm is dedicated to wildlife, which will rise to nearly 8 per cent on renewal of their Countryside Stewardship scheme.

Twenty-five years ago, the family was invited to contract farm a neighbouring unit of lighter soil type and, six years ago, Colin tendered and won the right to become a tenant on a further 120ha of high potential land, bringing their total farmed area to 645 hectares, with 325ha being original owned land.

The farm used to include a large suckler herd, however, lack of free time and a challenging work-life balance meant Colin disbanded the herd and, currently, a young shepherdess keeps her flock on the 32ha of permanent pasture, with the view to future graze the cover crops.

Colin focuses on gaining a deeper understanding of soil biology, which he says led to the most rapid changes on-farm.

He says: “This is sometimes at a financial cost. On our heaviest field, we went ‘cold turkey’ overnight and direct drilled.

“This led to the halving of yields for the next two years, in comparison to the three fields directly surrounding it, which then led to cover cropping and ‘apologies’ to the soil in the form of a liquid cocktail of fish hydrolysate, molasses and potassium humate, but also the knowledge that in those first few years a little bit of soil movement helps.

“This taught us the value of soil health and thus started a new chapter of progressive agriculture into minimal soil movement and cover and catch cropping.”

The farm also welcomes 400 disadvantaged school children each year for education visits.

Colin says: “We educate them about where their food comes from in the hope that society in the future will value this basic need.”

What the Judges said

Passion for people; showed real care and investment in next gen and also helping his neighbours; his focus on soil health was at the heart of the farm business; environment driven; engages in knowledge exchange with other farmers; engages with public and local Government; good grasp of cashflow/finances; good role model; invests in his own personal development

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

Nick Padwick

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No synthetic insecticides have been used at privately owned, 4,000-hectare north west Norfolk estate, Ken Hill farms, for 14 years.

Liquid fertiliser use has also been eliminated and granular fertiliser use has gone from 250 tonnes to just 25t, with the aim of being fertiliser-free by 2025.

Since arriving five years ago at a traditionally managed Norfolk estate, farm manager Nick Padwick has introduced a rewilding project, which is more than 400ha, including 200ha of woodland and 200ha of ex-arable land, which is currently being managed
by pigs, ponies and cattle.

Nick says: “A large expanse of fresh water, marsh and arable land is coming to the end of its first high-level fiveyear Countryside Stewardship scheme, which embraces all option that encourage biodiversity above and below the grounds.

After years of heavy machinery use, including ploughs and power harrows, Nick changed the system to no-till, no seed treatments and no fungicides, while focusing on soil biology and testing.

The collected data allows Nick to make informed decisions of what and when to plant crops and how to enrich the soil without the use of common inputs.

Yield is no longer the focus of the system. Instead he is concentrating on the sustainability of the soil and the land’s ability to produce crops for future generations.

He says: “The amount of soil life is crucial. The key is understanding what is present in the soil and what the crop needs or is missing, then through a process which may take many years, putting it back to help the soil regenerate and sustain crops with  minimal intervention.”

Oliver Scott

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Bradford Farming consists of more than 4,800 hectares, including arable, sheep, wildflowers, residential and commercial property, leisure enterprises, industrial portfolios and rural opportunities.

Farm manager Oliver Scott says:

“Through a long-term vision, we are driven by the principle of looking after tomorrow and are committed to responsible and sustainable practices in everything we do.

“Guided by our heart and dedication to the future, regenerative farming was the obvious option for us and we have embraced the challenge of transforming from a traditional, short arable rotation, heavily relying on inputs and tillage, to a more sustainable, regenerative system.”

Bradford Farming has adopted a more regenerative system by including direct drilling and minimum tillage cultivations, incorporating cover cropping and working closely with agro-ecologists to sap test, reduce artificial fertiliser application and minimise the use of pesticides and sprays.

Oliver says: “We have begun poly cropping by growing blended cereal varieties and ascertaining a better understanding of soil and plant nutrients to grow stronger, more resilient plants which require less spray input.”

The current rotation stretches to nine years to maximise soil nutrition and preserve key elements. The rotation also includes salads, poppies and potatoes, which are grown by local producers.

The opportunity to grow a variety of crops for different markets helps to spread risk and improve land quality.

Utilising resources and skills, Oliver has diversified the farm to growing wildflowers. This allows smaller, less productive areas of land to be harnessed and maintained.

In 2022, Oliver introduced a flock of Romney sheep by entering into a sharefarm agreement with a neighbouring shepherd. The roaming flock grazes cover crops and cereals, which benefits the crops by reducing disease pressure and adding nutrients back to the soil.

He says: “By transitioning to regenerative agriculture, we had to be open and vulnerable. We were aware of the potential of reduced yields, however, we were delighted to maintain wheat yields of 8.5 tonnes/ha following our first harvest.

“This transition has been onerous, full of uncertainty and at times terrifying, but looking back on what we have achieved so far, I am overwhelmed with pride and excited about the future.