Graham Tweddle and his family are the third generation to farm at Archdeacon Newton.
They diversified in 1998 into organic production with the aim of selling milk direct in the surrounding area, under their own brand, Acorn Dairy.
Since then the farm has grown to include 283 hectares (700 acres), half on an Agricultural Holdings Act tenancy and half on a Farm Business Tenancy.
In addition to this the business has grazing agreements and a contract heifer rearing agreement.
All these additional hectares are also in Countryside Stewardship.
Mr Tweddle says: "Farming on the edge of Darlington has advantages for selling our produce, we are right next to a market of 100,000 people, the vast majority of whom use milk in some form every day, however, we are also on the front line for rural crime and general hassle from the less desirable element of the Great British public."
We have been in various stewardship schemes for 22 years and when our latest 10-year scheme ended it seamed only natural to roll this over into a new scheme, particularly if future schemes are going to be granted on a competitive basis.
Why lose the benefits of 22 years of habitat building if future farm support is going to value it more highly than the land we harvest?
Being public facing and selling our produce direct means we get a lot of direct feedback from customers, and the bottom line is, they expect us to be looking after the countryside.
They want to hear about the bird boxes we are putting up, the new hedges we are planting and that we have a resident barn owl in the farm yard.
So if our customers want us to do it and it can become part of our selling message, that should be reason enough, but factor in that the government is going to pay us to do it, then it becomes a no brainer.
Historically organic conversion grants were administered through CS so the payment was a critical part or our budgeting.
Now the land is fully converted the payments have reduced so in our latest application we are looking at additional options - the whole time thinking, what would our customers think about this one?
Was there anything that put you off applying?
There is a production-based farmer’s son deep within me that would be tempted to farm Canada style, plough the lot, pull out a few hedges and go for a simple system, cut out the paperwork; produce it and someone else can worry about selling it.
But would that farmer’s son ever make it as a farmer? I doubt it and our customers would not be too impressed.
To build a scheme that will fit with our farming system, long-term organic grass leys split between grazing and silage, and looking at habitat for red list bird species, of these tree sparrows are a favourite as we have been part of a monitoring program for many years.
Tree planting is also big objective, we have lost a lot of trees over the years and cows need shade in the fields, it is also something we can get customers involved with.
It is surprising how many people plant acorns in pots but then do not have anywhere to plant the trees that grow. And of course everyone knows the link between tree planting and CO2 reduction.
Educational access is also a vital part of our application.
As a dairy we supply milk to many schools and nurseries, all of which are desperate to provide fun entertaining lessons for the customers of the future.
I am not saying that we sit them down and try to brainwash them into only every buying Acorn Dairy milk.
But, if a child goes home and tells Mum and Dad ’we visited the dairy farm that supplies milk to school, the calves are really cute, their electric comes from a wind turbine, they have barn owl boxes and 20 endangered bird species living on the farm. Oh and Mum they can deliver to our house twice a week’.
Other retailers use ’pester power’, why can’t we?
If kids can get excited about buying local produce, you never know they might want to join the industry and help produce it. If they drag a few adults with them, all the better.
The general public are so removed from agriculture in the UK, getting children/students onto farms is vital.
There are plenty of keen farmers and teachers, but the funds are lacking.
CS is one means of compensating farmers for their time, and capital grants can help with facilities, but transport is the key.
Schools do not have mini buses anymore or the funds to hire them, this is where Defra and the NFU need to get involved to help provide transport to get children onto farms.
It is something I am proud to say our local Darlington NFU have got behind.
My big hope for the ELM scheme is that it does not get over complicated, do not spend time and money reinventing the wheel.
Let it be based on the current CS model that the vast majority of the industry already understands.