Achieving success against the odds has enabled Tamara Hall to pursue her dreams at Molescroft Grange Farm.
A serious riding accident at a one-day event left Tamara Hall paralysed down the right side of her body and unable to see.
After a nerve-wracking period of six months when doctors could not be sure she would ever be able to lead a normal life again, she gradually regained feeling, movement and her eyesight. But she still had tough decisions to face.
Tamara says: “I knew I could not return to my own tailoring business in Leeds because of the temporary loss of my eyesight and dexterity in my hands.
“My father suggested I come back to the farm because he had retired from his fishing business and was aiming to do less hours on the farm.”
Not one to squander time and opportunity, Tamara decided to take her BASIS Crop Protection qualification at her father’s suggestion, prior to taking on the management of the farm full-time.
“I had not had much to do with the farm or farmers until then. I was amazed at how concerned other farmers on the course were about the impact of their farming operations on the environment. It made me realise the industry has a positive story to tell.”
A growing interest in the wider farming environment influenced many of the decisions made by Tamara when she took on more and more responsibility as her recovery continued. But her return to Molescroft Grange Farm was short-lived as yet again a crisis meant her life was in jeopardy.
“In 2007, I had acute liver failure, thought to be an adverse reaction to taking antibiotics. I had to have a transplant and the doctors were predicting I only had a 10 per cent chance of survival. Time spent lying in the hospital bed made me focus on what was important to me.”
Tamara has clearly wasted little time since returning after her life-saving transplant. Wildlife conservation and education were very high up her agenda, but so was turning the fortunes of the farm business around.
Improving the condition of the soils was fundamental to increasing yields and profitability across the 506-hectare (1,250-acre) enterprise. “I would rather make the most of what we have rather than moan it is too wet.
“We have heavy soils here and much of the farm is below the high tide level of the river. So if we get the field operations wrong, the land does not recover well.
“In the past, power harrows were used across the whole farm and they damaged the soil structure. So now we only do minimum cultivations using a Simba SL and we try and get drilled up as early as possible”.
A change in choice of horsepower has also contributed to the improvement in soil structure.
“We have purchased three smaller and lighter John Deere 7530s, to which we fit very large and expensive tyres to reduce ground pressure. Some might comment we could be doing more hectares with the machinery we have but because of the land we have here, this will not work.”
Tamara has also turned her attention to the rotation at Molescroft Grange Farm. “I am trying to get away from forcing the arable land to make more money because I know it needs more grass in the rotation,” she says. “Black-grass and poor soil structure are the two biggest challenges we face here.”
Fields at Molescroft Grange Farm were tested for black-grass resistance and the results proved control would only ever be at best 50 per cent effective.
Rotating 12ha (30 acres) of grass for haylage around the farm is the first line of attack in the war against black-grass. Haylage production works well because the crop can be fed to competition horses kept on the yard of professional event rider, Gary Parsonage who is based at the farm and married to Tamara’s sister Camilla.
“I would like to reintroduce livestock to the farm as we used to milk a herd of Jerseys here and cows would help to increase the organic content of the soils, as well as helping us to address the black-grass problem. But the fencing cost has proved prohibitive,” says Tamara.
So instead she has chosen to sow spring crops of beans and peas and now mostly grows first wheat as yields from second wheat have proved very variable.
“We work to a seven-year rotation which includes two years of rape, peas or beans, two first wheat and either a second wheat or barley. We find the oilseed rape improves the soil structure and also helps us to spread the workload, meaning we can start combining early and finish drilling before it gets too wet.”
Ensuring the oilseed rape is well established in early autumn also helps in the ongoing battle against slugs. Tamara chooses to control slugs using ferric phosphate, spot treating the most infested areas from the back of her Gator.
“The organic ferric phosphate pellets help to preserve natural slug predators and also minimise adverse impacts on the worm population.”
Increased organic matter for the soils has come from incorporating all the straw from the wheat, which Tamara says is already proving beneficial.
A change in direction with regard to cropping and soil management has gone hand-in-hand with a restructuring of other aspects of the farm business.
“When I came to the farm, it employed three full-time farm workers who worked overtime most weekends. Now I just employ one man full-time and we have part-time employees at busy times of the year.
“We pay a higher hourly rate, but staff do not have to work weekends except during harvest and drilling so the overall wages bill has reduced considerably.”
Tamara subscribes to consultancy services provided by an international agri-business market analyst to help her to manage the risk when buying inputs and selling grain.
“Although we do not generally achieve the top price for our grain, we never do badly. I do not gamble and only sell forward if I expect to have the grain to offset against the futures trade.”
Tamara’s strong commercial acumen is not at the expense of her commitment to the farm playing an active role in the local community of Beverley.
“We now have 70 community allotments here and we run these as a not for profit company. Any surplus we make is ploughed back into the facility and used to benefit everyone.”
Tamara is an avid supporter of Open Farm Sunday and in 2012 she initiated Open Farm School Days at Molescroft Grange Farm, when a thousand pupils from local schools visited the farm to learn about food production and the environment.
Away from the farm she is also fitting a Nuffield Scholarship into her busy schedule and her chosen topic forms part of her next proposed project for the farm.
“I decided to look at community-supported agriculture because although our allotments have been a great success for local residents, they do not produce as much food as they could. Community-supported agriculture might be a way of producing food less intensively and involving local people.”
She points to a 4ha (10-acre) field next to the allotments which she has earmarked for her project, applying quantities of horse manure to prepare it for growing fruit and vegetables.
“I plan to employ a professional market gardener to grow the food, although the locally-recruited members can choose to help with growing if they wish.
“I would like to run a ‘chicken club’ where people can pay £50 which buys them seven roasting birds a year. The principle behind this is the birds are produced less intensively, and in season, so taste better and are healthier to eat.
“The other benefit is the farmer has no risk – members pay at the start of the year so the farmer only produces the amount of food which has a guaranteed market.”
Added to these initiatives are the soon to be finished business units and a recently installed wood chip boiler which now heats all the farm buildings and offices.
Whatever her business choices, it seems energy and ideas are in plentiful supply in Tamara’s world.
“Thinking about how the Stewardship land had made a difference for wildlife and for local people is what made me feel better when I was very ill. For me, farming is not just about making as much money as possible, it is about giving something back.”