Winners Follow-up: Tim Parton, 2019 Arable Innovator of the Year

Tim Parton bases all his farm decisions on soil and sustainability and this, coupled with his genuine love of what he does, makes for a powerful business which is constantly achieving.

Farming is central to all other industries and should be celebrated more, says farm manager Tim Parton.

“We should be proud that we feed the nation. No other industry can work without food.”

Tim’s confidence and enthusiasm for the industry is apparent throughout our conversation and the same can be said when he talks about the arable sector he
specialises in. Particularly when it comes to cultivating healthy soil.

“Soil is at the heart of any decision I make,”

he says. “That’s always been the case but it has really gained momentum in the past 10 to 15 years.”

Tim has been manager of the 300-hectare Brewood Farm in south Staffordshire for 17 years but has been involved with the farm for some 38 years.

Originally it was his father George who worked as the farm manager before Tim joined him after leaving college and eventually taking over some years later.

With a real passion to study and understand soil health, Tim has been using biological farming techniques since 2012, focusing on boosting the soil’s  micronutrients.

He then moved to a no-till system in 2015, having successfully used strip tillage before that. The decision to change to no-till came from yields plateauing and the logical steps needed to tackle it.

“We were needing more nitrogen and I was aware nitrogen burns carbon. I knew I had to do something about that and that soils were depleting. Strip tillage and the no-till were logical steps.

“Soil health went through the roof and worm numbers quadrupled with strip tillage and then jumped again with no-till.”

Worm counts are now typically around 20 per square spade, while organic matter increases by 0.2 per cent every year.

“I grow as wide a rotation as I can. I have a lot of temporary grass for horse haylage as we live near a suburb of Wolverhampton and there are lots of horses.”

Other crops include milling wheat, malting barley, lupins for seed which is grown on for animal forage and also beans for seed, oilseed rape and oats.

“I will have a go at anything with the aim to get a wide rotation.”

“We should all be proud of what we do to feed the nation”

Careful consideration

Soils on the farm are a mixture of sandy loam and clay loam. For each farm decision Tim explores how it will enhance the soil.

“Soil is such a finite resource and we have undervalued it for so long. I believe that it is true that we only have 50 harvests left – we can’t keep burning carbon.  We have been pushed to do that by the need to produce cheap food.

“Lupins do so much for the soil, they remove compaction and fix nitrogen and phosphate. They are fantastic for soil health. I always get an extra tonne per hectare after lupins compared to any other break crop.

“If we do damage to the soil it takes so long to repair. Soil is life. It is everything.”

Tim does not use seed dressings or insecticides and will avoid fungicide where possible, instead replacing with brewed up biology.

“I will use fungicide if absolutely necessary but always need to know that the need is there. It can hold the plant back and there is always a cost.”

Innovations on-farm include the decreased use of herbicide and use of biological inputs since 2012. The only herbicide used in some cases is a small amount of glyphosate postdrilling.

“Weeds don’t grow too much with our no-till system. The soil has two to three inches of mulch – it is like armour and protects the soil. It doesn’t compact and the soil doesn’t wash away.”

Mycorrhizae populations were boosted too, he adds. “Chemicals always have side effects so we think very carefully about all chemical applications as we have to counteract the side effects.”

Tim goes to great lengths to avoid chemicals, including getting up at 4am to roll his cover crops so they don’t need glyphosate. “They shatter like glass,” he says.

“Reducing synthetic chemicals and fertiliser is so important to me. But I would rather use herbicide than the plough.”

With the help of engineer Trevor Tappin he adapted his John Deere 750 drill in 2015 and the resulting liquid application system means his biological inputs can be applied right next to the seed.

“It can get it straight away and make that connection,” he explains.

While the drill has helped he stresses it is possible to farm in this sustainable way on a much smaller budget.

“You just need to know what you are doing and what you are trying to achieve.”

The biggest hurdle is the farmer’s own brain, he adds.

“Some people really struggle to understand how you can get these improvements without cultivations.”


Tim measures success on the farm through increased yields alongside a host of other improvements.

“We are using less nitrogen than ever but have higher yields. It is through a combination of biology, healthy soils and worm activity. The bottom line is we are making more money now.”

The soils’ increased water absorption and retention is another success, he says. “When it rains the infiltration rate – even after a lot of water – is great. It just keeps absorbing and holding that water.

“Water is also a finite resource. We can’t make more of it so we need to have respect for it and look after and value it.”

Wildlife on the farm has alsobenefited, with a surge of diversity across the fields.

“Everything has come back. We now have murmurations of starlings, lots of lapwings, Peregrine falcons, skylarks and greenfinches. Everything can be  sustained.”

Local bird groups have come to carry out surveys on the farms and describe Brewood as ‘the best restaurant in town’ thanks to the abundance of food available and, as a result, birds are able to rear more young.

“The farm is sustainable and working as it should and we are making more money too.”

His mental wellbeing is also better, he says. “I am no longer stressed about the weather and getting jobs done in a small window. The soil carries me so much better.”

The biggest investment has been in increasing his knowledge, says Tim.

“I spend hours reading. There is so much to learn and I am always buying books – it never stops and is such a passion of mine. That is the biggest time investment.”

In the future Tim wants to go further down the biological route to limit or avoid chemical use altogether.

“The holy grail would be to go organic.

“When you work with nature rather than against it, life is so much easier,”  says Tim.

A combination of all his achievements on the farm saw him being named Arable Innovator of the Year at last year’s British Farming Awards, an accolade he is extremely proud of.

“We should all be proud of what we  do to feed the nation. We have been undervalued but hopefully through the current Covid-19 situation people will realise how valuable homeproduced food is and that we can’t be relying on imports.”

Since winning the award he has been in further demand as a speaker at events, which he is pleased to be able to do. “I want other people to know that we can make more money and enjoy farming. It doesn’t have to be a financial burden. I don’t see how any farmer wouldn’t want that.

“When they called my name at the awards it was one of the best feelings. It was a surprise and made me feel so proud.” He recommends others to enter. “To be recognised for outstanding work is something to be proud of.”