Farming & Forestry
Westacre farm can be categorised as a mixed rotational farm.
This means that it incorporates livestock into the crop rotation in order to benefit the soils, provide organic manures and to de-risk any particular crop by making each crop only a fraction of the whole.
Within the rotation we grow, wheat for milling and feed, barley for malting, vining peas for freezing, sugar beet for British sugar, maize for a local anaerobic digester.
Recently we have embarked on a blueberry plantation and are trialling chickpeas. Along with various partners we also manage within the rotation potatoes, parsnips, onions, pigs, chickens, geese, turkeys, and sheep.
Within this array of crops for human kind about 15% of the farm land is managed for the benefit of wildlife through an assortment of traditional conservation measures under a higher level countryside stewardship scheme.
Herron Hill Water, Irrigation and Potatoes
In 2014, along with two neighbouring farmers we obtained a winter water abstraction license and build a pair of linked reservoirs and over 50km of underground pipework.
This project changed the farm in ways we did not see coming. Firstly, it enabled us to reliably grow potatoes and vegetables, which brought a high value crop into the rotation and has helped stabilise our income. But, once potatoes are in the rotation they dictate the shape of the rotation as they need a long period between crops to keep the soil free from pests and diseases which accumulate with repeatedly cropping the same thing in a field. It has become one of our greatest assets and one of our biggest headaches.
Environmentally Sensitive and Balanced Farming
In an attempt to create an environmentally sensitive and balanced but profitable farm, we have begun to use sheep in a major way as part of the yearly use of the farmed area.
This is achieved by a mixture of different forage crops planted after the main cereal crop is harvested. These ‘cove crops' enable us to run an extended flock over the winter, that eat the forage rape, or stubble turnips or rye and vetch or mustard and phacelia, returning nutrients to the soil in the way of manure.
While these crops are growing, the land is always harvesting sunlight, and drawing down carbon into the soil, which along with the creation of root systems allows the land to cope better with winter rain and should improve conditions for the following years crop.
The Right Tools
We love machines, and they get bigger and bigger every year! So big they don’t fit into the old sheds!!
But seriously, having the right tools for the job enables a small team to carry out an awful lot of work preparing a seed beds, or reinstating a field after vegetables, drilling the seed, and harvesting. All this takes place with only three operators, and one of those has to spend most of her time on blueberries.
Trees for Forestry
Despite actively managing our woodlands for at least the last 3 generations, we have not had a policy of growing our own rootstock on the estate. Which seemed a mistake, as we have the space, the purpose, and the expertise to give it a go.
In 2018, when the government announced a plan to plant many hundreds of millions of trees by 2030, we decided the time was right and as long as the trees were of a high standard we should be able to sell them at the two year whip stage.
We have set our goal to produce mostly native english woodland species, along with some conifer, in plug form for the local market. It is early days but, through Fraser Bradbury's work with other local forest owners we are hoping to be able to supply a mainly local market. For more information on available stock and prices, please email the Estate office.
The woodland on the estate varies in age and composition. As part of the management of our woodland, for the aim of growing quality hardwood timber for the construction and furniture industry, we carry out regular thinning to promote both growth and quality.
These by-products once made their way into the coal mines as pit props and other supporting beams. However, the main market today is firewood for domestic use and wood chip for biomass boilers.
We currently produce and sell around 600 tonnes of wood chip which we supply to local homes and businesses using a high tip trailer. Contact the estate office for details and pricing by email or phone.
The plan to grow Christmas trees was spawned out of a desire to provide a wind break to protect the saplings in the tree nursery (this is still a work in progress as the trees will take a while to get up to a helpful height).
We quickly became aware that scale is needed to ensure that time and effort is spent doing a job properly. It takes up to 8 years to grow a 7/8ft tree, running every year, to shape it correctly.
In time, we hope to have around a 1000 trees available annually, though will only have a hundred or so this year as we build up the growing stock. Please call or email the estate office for details.
Farm Management Team
The in house arable farming operation is carried out by a Dream Team of 4. Adrian Howell, farm manager, Andy Green and Jack Goody operating all the kit, and Abi Carter looking after the blueberries and helping every which way she can.
Our keeper Chris Carter and his wife Debs are all over the place, from acting ranger in the rewilding zone to vermin control and deer management over all the woods and fields on the estate, to looking after our hens that roam wild in high house park, producing eggs for sale to local outlets and looking after the baby trees in our nursery.