It might be the start of a new year but for Yorkshire farmer Paul Temple, ’Brexit proofing’ his business is now a key focus of progression, as Marie Claire Kidd found out.
Paul Temple had hoped Britain would choose to remain in the EU, but has reluctantly made peace with it leaving.
Now, while ‘Brexit-proofing’ his farm business, he has become enthused by an approach he says not only increases financial resilience in changing times, but also improves soil health and productivity.
Inspired by sustainable farming aficionado Tony Reynolds, he is embracing the zero-till method.
Alongside this, he is looking to increase his herd of 220 suckler beef cattle – a business linked to environmental management, required locally with or without Brexit.
“The suckler herd is looking to reduce the cost of production as part of Brexit-proofing,” he says. “No-till reduces the investment required while improving soil.”
As a former NFU vice-president – having stepped down in 2009 – Paul is also former chairman of COPA/COGECA cereals, oilseeds and proteins group in Brussels and currently sits on the board at both AHDB board and chairs AHDB’s strategy board for cereals and oilseeds. He has recently taken on the chairman’s role for the Voluntary Initiative.
He was a founder member of the European Biotech Forum and an AHDB cereals and oilseeds sector board member from 2013 to 2015.
At home in Driffield, East Yorkshire, he is a tenant farmer in a family partnership. He farms 310 hectares across two main sites, managing beef cattle, cereals, oilseeds and vining peas.
The business has participated in the GM Field Scale Evaluation trials and is part of the Higher Level Stewardship scheme. Over the years Wold Farm has adapted to follow the Common Agricultural Policy, changing his business approach along the way.
“In the past we did dairy farming,” Paul explains. “We fattened a lot of animals, but when they removed the headage payments, we reduced that.”
Now he is ‘safari farming’. “We take on a range of grasses on an annual basis,” he says. “We keep 220 sucklers and our aim is to produce strong stores. We’ll look to continue that system as Brexit proceeds.”
The team uses the Stabiliser breed as terminal sire as he looks for strong low cost maternal traits for hard grazing and the right size animal for the British market.
Paul has identified a local need to manage the grassland environment, and has realised that managing small herds of 20 or 30 cattle is no longer financially viable. A herd of 220, he says, is just about big enough to make economic sense.
“All these suckler cows manage permanent grasses on one environmental scheme or another,” he says. “Most are within a 12-mile radius of the farm.
“This is an area with a lot of straw. You can pick up waste products as well. We have the opportunity to feed cattle as cheaply as anybody.”
The cows are out on these pastures during the summer and are transported back to Wold Farm for six months over winter, via 50k tractors and a large livestock box. “The beef and arable mix fits well and means we’re busy all year round,” Paul says.
Paul recognises the value of returning organic matter on chalk-based soils and has always applied farmyard manure rotationally. All white straw crops are recycled and the farm currently receives all base nutrients from organic sources.
But he is keen to build on this by employing no-till methods across the farm. “We’ve always been big believers in returning manures to the soil,” he says. “But I’m only just beginning to the learn the science behind it’s benefit.
“As a farming student in the 1970s you understand the physical and chemical nature of soil but not the biological side. We’re now measuring and mapping organic matter and we realise from a long-term soil heath as well as a financial point of view, no-till makes sense if we can make it work.”
He has been inspired by Tony Reynolds, who runs a 610-acre mixed farm at Thurlby Grange in Bourne, Lincolnshire.
“He has a young independent mind looking at soil in a different way. He’s done it the longest,”
“When you see his soil, you don’t have to measure it. You put a spade in and you can see the difference. I’m a ploughman by instinct, but I’ve started to ask myself why I move my soil 16 inches one way each year just to move it back the next year. We seemed to be working deeper and the soils are becoming more vulnerable to capping.
“If you get the soil to work properly the nutritional cycle isn’t what we thought it was. The microbial processes in nutrition mean more efficient use of fertiliser.
“No-till improves moisture retention in dry spells. It helps the soil cope with heavy rain. It makes it more stable, there’s less run off. It reduces input costs.
“The soil structure improves and it makes life easier. Arable weeds are an act of cultivation.”
Wold Farm is now in year two of it’s conversion to no-till. Next year all of its land will be in the system.
Already, Paul has not added phosphorus or potassium to the soil for several years. “The livestock side is giving us a leg up into this process,” he says.
As Brexit progresses, he expects Wold Farm and other farm businesses to manage their mechanical and chemical inputs even more thoroughly than in the past. A recent field trip to Argentina with AHDB showed this is already happening there.
AHDB was looking at a variety of aspects of Argentinan agriculture, particularly how Argentinian farms coped when export taxes were applied.
“They adapted their approach to farm machinery because of lower income,” Paul says. “This didn’t exclude precision equipment if it allowed more efficient use of inputs.
“Larger farms often contract smaller family farmers to do their work. They’re far more efficient and effective than in the UK. They ruthlessly manage and understand their costs. When you haven’t got the income you have to know more precisely what you’re doing.
“I’ve watched no-till from a distance for years. We thought we couldn’t do it in our landscape and climate, but I’ve seen it in both cold and dry climates.
“In cold climate, hard frosts lift the soil and there is freeze and thaw to some depth. In hot climates, the soils dry out and crack, and they benefit from being rewetted. Here in the maritime band there’s no cracking, the soil is inherently moist.
“It makes make you nervous. It’s very different for a heavy soil type to take it on. Most farm managers will look at this to see if they can apply it for commercial reasons.
“I’m not going to sell all my equipment and abandon it, but I’m fascinated and excited. This is the most exciting thing in farming at the moment.
“I’m 56 years old and since my 30s I’ve been interested in research and development, but I’ve never felt I had as much to learn in my life. I’m going to run with this because it feels right.”
Location: Wold Farm covers 100 hectares three miles north of Driffield in the Yorkshire Wolds, an area famed for versatile, productive and easy working land. Paul and his team farm a second site, bringing their hectarage to 310 and they also graze cattle on a range of permanent grasses on an annual basis.
Land: The land is classified by MAFF as predominantly Grade 2. The soil is ’Andover 1’, “shallow well drained calcareous silty soils on chalk slopes and crests. Deep calcareous and non-calcareous fine silty soils in valley bottoms. Striped soil patterns”. It is suitable for growing cereals, sugar beet and potatoes, along with woodland and short term grass, and is high-yielding and free-draining. An area of traditional woodland at the edge of the farmyard forms a shelter belt.
Farm business: Wold Farm is a mixed arable and beef farm supporting 220 suckler cows and followers. In the 1980s, beef cattle took the place of a dairy herd. Since then, production has continued to adapt to changes in agricultural policy. It is now based on managing grasses in environmental schemes with the aim of producing store cattle, alongside the arable business.
Rotation: Cropping is based on a six course rotation of wheat, oilseed rape, vining peas, grass, rye and cover crops. The farm is moving to no-till crop establishment to improve soil health and long-term sustainability.
The team: HS Temple & Son is a family farming partnership, with Paul Temple holding the tenancy of Wold Farm following on from his father, Bruce. Paul is supported by his wife Liz Falkingham, farm manager Ben Hoggard and beef and arable technician Anthony Stones. His son Michael works full-time at Grainco, but also helps out at the farm. A student helps out during the summer months.
Higher Level Stewardship: Wold Farm is in the Higher Level Stewardship scheme until 2020. Educational access is part of the scheme and the farm encourages visitors at all times of the year.