Winter has been busy this year, although not in the fields thanks to another wet autumn, but due to a relocation.
It is not far, just across the yard in fact, but it is an exciting one all the same. As a joint venture we rent space from various shareholders, but this has not been all at the same location. Although this has benefits at times, it can cause disruption to work, particularly at the busiest times of the year.
When some additional buildings at our main base became available this summer it made sense to look at moving into these, which is what we are currently in the process of doing. The end result will mean a new, purpose-built workshop, with the ability to maintain machinery on concrete in the dry, a much larger, more practical chemical store and a seed store all on one specific site.
Rather disappointingly, during the annual appraisals at the end of last year, our operator Tim handed in his notice. He is taking a step up in his career and we wish him all the best for the future, however it has meant I am in the market for quality operators. We have had some good interest in the position and are conducting interviews over the next week, so we will hopefully find a suitable candidate shortly.
I have also recently been through my Red Tractor audit, which was quite a timely experience considering the current consultation process and the various debates about the value of the assurance scheme for combinable crop growers.
As a Leaf farm, our audit for both this and Red Tractor are carried out together, which considering the overlap in requirements between the two, helps dramatically. I have often found the process itself to be quite straightforward, despite the tedium of it, and we have put many measures in place over the last few years to try to improve both the quality of record keeping for assurance purposes in particular, as well as the ease of access to it.
Having moved to a Cloud-based recording system for company documents, maps, timesheets and field records some years ago, we have slowly been adding all the assurance scheme requirements and health and safety requirements to the platform too. With the number of records required it is the uploading of the documents onto the Red Tractor website that takes the time, especially when the information is not easily accessible or needs scanning in first.
When the documents are already online, it certainly helps to speed up the whole process. It also means any updates are much more easily distributed to the team and all team members are able to access the same information straight away, which really helps.
On the home farm we are now into the final year of our Mid-Tier Countryside Stewardship (CSS) scheme, so I will soon be considering the application to re-enter while we wait for some more clarity on the new Environmental Land Management scheme (ELMs). We actually have two different schemes running that finish two years apart and although it would make sense to bring the dates in line, this does not look to be as straightforward as I would have hoped.
I had rather thought that ending one agreement early to re-enter under another, bigger scheme which would lock in the environmental commitments for a further five years would be an easy sell, but it appears to do so, we may face early exit charges.
I am very much in favour of encouraging increased environmental activities on-farm, however my experience of CSS has not been particularly positive right through the four years so far. I would like to think we can hope for better from ELMs, but we’ll see.