2019 was a very big year for the development of FarmED. At the start of it, in January, the centre was a construction site, with the roofless education building still a skeleton, clad in scaffolding.
By December, we’d appointed industry champion Jonty Brunyee as Manager. We had an Assistant Manager and Events Coordinator, and we’d welcomed several large groups of visitors to experience FarmED, to walk and talk and share knowledge and excellent food, for the very first time.
Construction and Bird Feeding
Builder Bill and his team of electricians, joiners, plumbers and roofers, began the new year with a range of tasks ahead of them, including erecting our beautiful zinc roofing and nailing in hundreds of lengths of larch cladding inside and outside.
The diggers were also at work on the farm, creating the very large attenuation pond to hold the rainwater from the new buildings. It’s surrounded by a secure fence and wildlife friendly planting, while the water trickles gently into the River Evenlode helping to alleviate flash flooding during extreme weather events.
The winter bird survey recorded 300 Linnets, 100 Chaffinches, 15 Yellow Hammers and 5 Reed Buntings, all feeding on the supplementary bird seed we’d been scattering in the now redundant bird seed plot.
February - March
Control Plots, Tree Planting and Roofing
We took advantage of great weather to plough the two control plots (4 acres) ready to sow spring barley. These plots have been growing continuous cereals for many years and have been kept to compare the effects on the soil and profitably of a monoculture with inputs system compared to a diverse crop rotation without inputs. We used a shallow 5 furrow reversible plough (Ovlac mini), which can be pulled by a relatively small tractor of 115 horsepower, turning a 4 inch deep furrow.
Young farmer, Hallam, expert tree man Paul Harris, and Chris Nash had a busy weekend planting up the new driveway and car parking area with a mixture of ornamental pear, crab apple, wild cherry, mountain ash, hawthorn, holly and birch. These 150 new additions provide multiple benefits to wildlife and a beautiful approach to the new FarmED buildings! More trees were planted on the soil bund overlooking the orchard. The soil was moved last autumn to make way for the new FarmED buildings.
Our excellent zinc roofing team, the Lawrence family, gave us an actual roof on the first building and local farmers and landowners - Amanda Ponsonby with the Colston family, Oli, Charles and Nigel - came on a farm walk to discuss the future of farming and the food it produces.
April - May
We were delighted to welcome Colin Tudge, Ruth West and Robert Fraser from the College for Real Farming and Food Culture and Funding Enlightened Agriculture (FEA) to FarmED. Ian also welcomed Tom Tolputt to FarmED to talk about soil health. Tom is a farmer and advisor with a passion for agricultural sustainability and nutrition.
The scaffolding was taken down, revealing the beauty of the architecture. The walls are clad in larch which is beautiful and sustainable, turning silver over time.
Visit from The Woodland Trust
A delegation from The Woodland Trust visited as part of its Oxfordshire Focus Area Workshop, looking at the region’s particular challenges and opportunities. They were joined by Alistair Yeomans of the Sylva Foundation and Sharon Williams, Wychwood Project Director and member of the Evenlode Catchment Partnership. The group were interested in the natural flood management project and how it has involved the planting of trees and creation of areas of wetland. Ian Wilkinson discussed crop rotation, tree-planting and natural flood management in the wider context of diversity on the farm and how trees and water can be used as natural capital, bringing a range of benefits.
Sowing and Growing
In their fifth year, the wildflower margins at FarmED run in 12 metre strips around each field, with early pioneer species such as oxeye daisy and wild carrot joined by species that have taken longer to establish like field scabious, musk mallow and meadow buttercup. They have created a great habitat for pollinators, insects, hares and ground nesting bird species.
Cereal rye is used as a soil improving cover crop and at FarmED it’s part of our trials area, where we experimented with termination techniques using a roller crimper.
We cut our five year old sainfoin ley on a sunny summer evening. Sainfoin would not normally be cut this early, but with a little soft brome (weed grass) showing up in this crop, we took an early haylage cut to reduce this weed before its seeds fell on the ground to germinate and multiply.
The herbal ley was sown with white flowered buckwheat in the mix to act as a nurse crop. This gives an umbrella protection effect, makes phosphate (plant food) and is non competitive to the new ley. The buckwheat was sown at 8kg/acre in addition to the herbal ley.
We also sowed a wild bird seed mix including sunflowers, millet and mustard for food and sorghum and brassicas for cover.
Visits from the Committee on Climate Change and Farming Today
As part of a visit to regenerative farms in the Cotswolds organised by FWAG Southwest, Brendan Freeman and Indra Thillainathan from the Committee on Climate Change visited FarmEd on what was the hottest day ever recorded in the UK. As part of this independent, statutory board whose purpose is to advise the UK government on emissions targets and preparing for climate change, the group of farmers and experts explained their role in developing and promoting new farming systems that capture carbon by using herbal leys.
Meanwhile BBC Radio 4’s ‘Farming Today’ came on a field trip to FarmED to hear about the benefits of herbal leys in terms of soil fertility, animal health, profitability and sustainability.
More VIP visitors included a grey partridge pair spotted in the sainfoin by ecologist Richard Broughton! Wildflower margins full of knapweed and scabious were busy with goldfinches and teeming with marbled whites and meadow brown butterflies, showing how diversification works.
After last year’s dry summer, and the ongoing dry conditions, our trail plots of drought resistant forage legumes, sainfoin and lucerne, were still looking lush.
Pizzas and Safaris
Our huge pizza oven was installed - a crucial ‘food’ element of our new centre for farm and food education. We’ll be using the produce from the farm to make some amazing pizzas. Mark and Howard from SGS in Banbury kindly came over to combine our heritage wheat which we are growing for bread and pizza making!
Sadly we weren’t quite ready to offer pizzas to the Wychwood Project’s Go Wild day camp for 8-12 year olds who came for a farm safari but they had a great day. They found out more about the wildlife habitats we’ve created on the farm, learnt how to identify animal tracks and dung and grow vegetables with Emma, who runs the kitchen garden.
Our wild bird seed crops were looking wonderful. Common Blue butterflies joined the many other species taking advantage of the plant diversity on the farm. Bees were busy in the wildflower margins and in the beehives brood boxes were full of eggs.
Leader and Defra Visit
Representatives from the Cotswold Conservation Board and Defra met at FarmED to discuss the Leader Funding programme and explore future funding for rural development and lessons learned from the FarmED experience.
Work started on the FarmED car park while finishing touches were put to the buildings. The floor in the impressive lecture space was polished and sealed and drainage channels were the final part of the landscaping in the courtyard between the two new buildings.
While the construction of the buildings continued, work on the farm went on as normal. We combined high, at 30cm, leaving the crop of sainfoin, meadow fescue and Timothy for the sheep to graze. Autumn sowing included an overwinter cover crop of rye and vetch. Rye is often grown as a companion crop with vetch, since combining an N lifter and a fixer together is the best way of improving soils over winter.
Industry champion Jonty Brunyee was appointed to head up the team at FarmED. Jonty has 25 years of experience in the sustainable farming and environmental sector as a consultant and award winning organic farmer, and as a senior academic at the Royal Agricultural University. He is a Nuffield Farming Scholar and, until recently, a Director of the Pasture Fed Livestock Association. He was joined by Assistant Manager, Chris Nash and Sophie Wilkinson, our new Event & Office Coordinator. They began planning an exciting education programme and series of farm walks, talks and muddy boots events.
Open Doors for Our Lecture Space
The new lecture space at FarmED was ready to welcome a group of farmers from Finland - the first visitors to use our new venue. Ian and Chris made some final adjustment to the lectern after our designer, Matt, finished hand-painting the logo.
The members of Agronomiliitto - an agronomy association for university graduates in food, household, agricultural, nutritional and environmental sciences and their applied disciplines - were very interested to see our Cotswold brash soil and to learn about how it’s ideal for growing sainfoin, a plant with which they were unfamiliar.
Later in the month we were visited by a group from the Evenlode Catchment Partnership’s (ECP) zero till trial, co-ordinated by Natural England and headed by Sarah Olney. It was great to explore techniques and issues related to zero tillage and how it can help with regenerative farming.
Meanwhile we saw a bumper harvest of crown prince squash from our kitchen garden and the herbal ley was still growing strong after a season of grazing.
Agricology Steering Group
The Agricology Steering Group came to FarmED, the first large event to be held in our new centre, with members from 40 organizations including the National Trust and Rothamsted. Our videographer, James, collected first impressions for our YouTube channel and it was great to hear some wonderful feedback comments, praising the ‘beautiful space’ and ‘amazing farm’. Dr Nicky Cannon from the RAU described FarmED as a ‘fantastic resource for the agricultural community, both nationally and internationally.’
The Evenlode Catchment Laboratory’s data integration conference also took place, looking at the importance of data for farmers, farm managers and landowners. Sessions included FarmED Assistant Manager, Chris Nash’s presentation on Data Challenges Associated with Regenerative Agriculture.
Regenerative agriculture begins with the soil, so it is very appropriate that tea, coffee and lunch at FarmED was served in Denby Pottery tableware, which is crafted from Derbyshire clay.
FarmED was founded by MD of Cotswold Seeds, Ian Wilkinson, and we ended the year with a visit from The Cotswold Seeds’ sales team, who came to look at the healthy soil created by the eight year crop rotation. Abbi Hall, who joined as an intern, was very impressed by the very long chicory roots which Ian dug up from the herbal ley field.
Windows went into our second farm building and we looked forward to 2020!