Despite a focus on high yields, wildlife conversation is at the forefront of the AHDB Strategic Farm East, led by Brian Barker. Alice Dyer attended their open day.
The farm, which was under a 10-year HLS scheme until 2017, focuses on creating a bustling ecosystem of non-farmed area to boost wildlife populations and increase integrated pest management (IPM).
Their efforts have welcomed more barn owls, grey partridge, yellow hammer and great crested newt, to name a few.
The farm is now in its second year of the higher tier Countryside Stewardship scheme.
Patrick Barker, who runs the farm alongside his cousin Brian, said: “The whole principal is pushing the farmed area to the best of its ability, but also to push that 5-10% that is out of production as hard as we can with a yield for wildlife.”
The farm now has 7.3ha of nectar flower mix, 8.1ha of wild bird seed mix and 1.5ha of autumn sown bumble bird mix.
“The Country Stewardship has taken farmed wildlife to the next level,” said Mr Barker. “Creating an ecosystem over the whole of the farm alongside the arable area, hits all the principals of IPM as well and gets nature working for us.”
The farm records all wildlife and has started ringing yellow hammer after supplementary feeding all year round saw a massive increase in populations due to fledglings making it through the winter.
Mr Barker added: “We have taken on the principals of providing the big three- all round food supply, safe nesting and brood rearing habitat and protection from predators.”
But Mr Barker warned growers to exercise patience in building up an ecosystem.
He said: “We started with about two pairs of grey partridge, and in 10 years they didn’t seem to increase. We were a bit concerned, but last summer we saw 10 pairs and that increased very quickly as wild flower meadows began to mature and we got that habitat right.
“What is not always appreciated is that these are long term measures, and 10 years seems like a long time, but we’re now starting to see the benefits. You have to be patient.”
A new environmental scheme is being piloted by Natural England which offers Norfolk and Suffolk farmers performance related payments for their contribution to the environment.
David Whiting, senior agronomist at Natural England said: “IPM is going to be an essential part of the framework going forward. We are paying farmers to deliver winter bird food and pollen nectar mix and they’re paid more or less according to performance.
"They have no rules to follow and the farmer is simply given an agronomy note and recommended advice on how to deliver a 10 tonne crop of winter bird food.”
Growers can receive £842/ha for winter bird feed in the pilot, compared to the top payment of £640 in Countryside Stewardship, added Mr Whiting.
Farmers need to flood social media with more positive images of their business, said Brian Barker.
Using the hashtag #farmwildlife, Mr Barker posted one tweet everyday for a year which received over 1 million views.
He said: “We as an industry need to be better at telling the good stories. This is all positive, proactive stuff any farmer can do. Your farm is probably one of the most beautiful places, so flood the internet with positive images and stories about farming.”
Brian Barker of E.J. Barker & Sons is coming to the end of his second year as the AHDB Strategic Cereal Farm East farmer. Lodge Farm is a family farm partnership in Westhorpe in Suffolk.
The 513ha arable farm business uses a 12-year rotation, incorporating winter wheat for feed, herbage grass seed and break crops of spring barley, beans and linseed. The Strategic Farm programme runs for six years.