On Friday the 15th April MSc students from the School of Life Sciences studying Food Security, Sustainable Crop Production and Environmental Bioscience were taken to Abbey Home Farm to see an organic farm in action! We were taken on a tour by John Newman, the farm manager, around a small part of the 650 hectare farm and shop, which sells a wide range of organic produce. The farm is registered with the Soil Association and has won numerous awards for both the farm and the shop.
We started the tour at the poly tunnels where a variety of vegetables are grown. John explained some of the problems associated with selling commercially, such as the visual appearance of produce! Consumers want their fruit and veg to look a certain way but with organic crops this can be slightly more tricky. Luckily, through the loyal customers in the shop, they are educating people to look beyond perfection, while they also reduce waste by using the crops that look less appealing in the farm café.
The farm raises both dairy and beef cows, along with sheep, pigs and poultry that produce both meat and eggs. John explained how the cows have a high quality diet of clover and grass when they are out grazing and when they are housed they are fed a mix of leguminous and grass silages and occasionally some whole crop silage (where wheat, barley or oats are cut when the grain is closer to ripeness and crops usually measure 55 to 60% dry matter when ensiled). They could also be fed hay in the winter if required.
Other animal products are made at the farm including milk, yogurt, cream and cheese. The farm is dedicated to having a wide range of enterprises, although this is very labour intensive and is not very economic in scale, so they can become a truly sustainable farm that can feed the local community. Other enterprises at the farm include, an eco-venue that caters for meetings, weddings etc., accommodation in the form of a camp site, yurts and cottages, educational tours and other activities. The farm also produces renewable energy, with solar and wind power.
The students were also taken out to the fields, where the farm grows cereals such as barley, oats and wheat in rotation. A successful rotation system uses cropping sequences that:
– match nutrient availability with crop requirement, e.g. crops with high nutrient demand should closely follow fertility building crops;
– grow crops with different rooting depths and structure to efficiently utilise nutrient reserves;
– disrupt weed, pest and disease life cycles.
For example, John described how growing oats can help reduce weed infestation as the oats seem to smother the weeds, while red clover, white clover and lucerne are grown as part of the cereal rotation in order to increase nitrogen in the fields.
We ended the tour at the farm shop and had a delicious organic lunch! All the students left well-fed and with bags full of organic food stuff!
To find out more about Abbey Farm see here