Interview with Land Management 2.0
This week, Jason and Nathan interviewed with Tim Hopkin, founder of the Land App and Land Management 2.0, an community interest company bringing together experts and thought leaders in landscape management.
We use the Land App extensively at Deepdale Farm, from designing our mid tier Countryside Stewardship agreement to various other planning tasks. Land Management 2.0 has been a brilliant forum for learning and sharing knowledge with a supportive community of farmers, conservationists and others with an interest in landscape management.
We were really delighted with all the interest in this interview and to see some great questions – not all of which we could answer in the time we had. The questions are below with some brief(ish) responses.
Do you do any remote monitoring of the estate? Drones, aerial photography, satellite images?
We’ve been using onesoil.ai for NDVI imagery, and will try and make more use of it this year as we enter our first full year with a new cropping plan. Open to using drones in the future, but for the time being Nathan just wants to get out into fields with a spade more to see what’s going on. We have run some soil tests to set a baseline for the farm, capturing carbon:nitrogen ratios and soil organic matter (currently around 2%) and will be doing more soil testing this month.
Do you think your location helps for getting volunteers to come in, or is it the vision of Deepdale that helps and the path you are going down?
Our location certainly helps, on the North Norfolk coast and the tourism trail, but location shouldn’t be that important if we’re doing interesting work with volunteers when they get here, and keeping them well-fed and entertained.
How do you manage the heart stuff, wanting and understanding nature with the head stuff (how does it pay)?
A lot of what we’re doing doesn’t have a direct financial return – we’re doing it because we love it, because it’s right for the farm, and we hope people will appreciate that – and that there is a return down the line as more people want to come and stay, to be involved. There is though a direct return from some of this work – apart from the support given through environmental schemes, beetle banks for example act as integrated pest management features, providing habitat for predatory insects that deal with issues in our crops now that we can’t fall back on the bag and the bottle under a conventional farming system. If the farm is also a beautiful place this has benefits for people in terms of increased wellbeing, reduced absence from work due to illness.
What is your events philosophy – run them yourself; enter into a joint venture with some shared risk or just work with a third party promoter and minimise risk?
We run most events ourselves at the moment, from the Deepdale Festival to the Christmas Market, but in the future we’re more likely to work in partnership with others and open the farm up as a resource and events space.
Did you start with any metrics taken from the soil and plan based on the soil needs. If so how did you decide on the crop rotations, and or any inputs?
We have done some soil testing (see previous answer). We’ve learned a great deal about agronomy in the past year as we’ve found out more about what our soils needed – and we’re still learning, particularly now without the support of an agronomist. We had help with our organic rotation and conversion plan from Stephen Briggs at Abacus Agriculture.
Do you have an aspiration in the future to farm without the need for CSS or ELMS support, or is that entirely unrealistic?
Absolutely – but we’ll have to see what ELM brings. For the time being, we hope our mid-tier agreement helps us to accomplish the improvements we want to make over the next five years, recover our soils and keep the lights on.
Why did you seek out such diverse external advice, eg FWAG, IDB, NRT, and what motivated you to listen to them?
We’ll talk to anyone with an interest in farming, biodiversity, water management – and cast the net wide over the past year. FWAG are specifically there to talk about farming and wildlife and have assisted us with our Countryside Stewardship plans which is a core part of their offering. The Norfolk Rivers IDB were able to quickly help us with runoff and erosion on the farm and provide a brilliant service with support from ecologists and others. The Norfolk Rivers IDB connected us to the Water Sensitive Farming team at Norfolk Rivers Trust – they provide us with invaluable practical support and advice in managing flood and erosion risk, specifically geared towards farms.
I support your transition to reduced tillage but for many Norfolk farms, potatoes are a cash crop and sugar beet used in the rotation. We have many soil erosion issues in North and East Norfolk after late cropping in wet conditions and lack of post-harvest cultivation or later remediation with subsoiling. Also tramline management, wheeling disruption and mechanical weeding/inter row-hoes are proven to reduce water and nutrient losses – any thoughts on combining these with min till elsewhere?
We’ve had potatoes, carrots and sugar beet in the rotation for several years, and a combination of lack of appropriate management and poor husbandry on the part of growers leasing our land to produce these crops is a major contributory factor in the poor soil health we’ve seen on our farm. As recently as this January, carrots were harvested on our farm leaving us with little redress against erosion in heavy rainfall.
As we move to an organic system focussed on soil health, we’re looking into inter-row hoeing for weed control and how we can minimise soil disturbance while being in an organic system that might place greater reliance on tillage. We’re learning. Root crops may come back but for the time being, they’re not in our rotation.
What contribution does the tourism element – the campsite, cafe etc make to the overall business plan.. have you separated the farming aspect from the tourism offer?
Tourism is hugely important for us. The tourism business is separate to the farm – but we hope to better integrate the two in future, to the benefit of both the farm and tourism businesses.
With the establishment of Water Resources East and the Norfolk Strategic Flooding Alliance do you have any plans for Natural Flood Management/Nature Based Solutions for constructing multi-use wetlands?
We’ve built considerations around flood / erosion mitigation into our stewardship agreement, consulting with the Water Sensitive Farming team at Norfolk Rivers Trust.
In the future we’re open to other solutions for natural flood management and the possibility of wetland reversion on reclaimed marshland we currently farm.
Do you anticipate increasing cropped area after the 5 years of stewardship, and if so how will this fit with your carbon neutral plans?
Anything is possible after Countryside Stewardship as we look to evolve the farm going into an ELM system – this may include an increase in cropped area though we will have to consider the losses to any area we have dedicated to wildlife. It’s possible that for example through grazing and continuing use of grass leys that we can push more effectively to become carbon negative, which is our aim.
What size is the farm and how much of that is good arable?
We’re 260 hectares with 100 hectares in cropped plots. Our land is grade 3 (good to moderate) with some land being grade 4 (poor).
The lack of even minimal field margins and hedgerows/trees outside of woodland in substantial parts of Norfolk – especially the East is rather depressing – many of those present get flailed back to the knuckle every year. How do you think we can influence more conventional farmers to change their approach and view this Natural Capital and public good as an asset rather than a hindrance?
As recently as last winter, we were still flailing hedgerows to the knuckle. We have done no hedge trimming this winter and as our mid-tier agreement comes through we will undertake a large programme of hedgerow restoration including gapping up, laying and coppicing. Hedgerow maintenance does require effort, skill and time, and we’re absolutely committed to doing it, but the mid-tier agreement does provide much-needed support.
Norfolk FWAG organised an excellent event in February last year at Mill Farm, Great Witchingham where farmers were able to see a mix of hedgerow management approaches. More positive, constructive engagement and peer learning of this kind is needed as soon as restrictions allow, meanwhile we’re huge fans of hedgerow champions like Richard Negus and Megan on Twitter who share some brilliant educational content. We’re trying to do the same through our social channels.
In terms of practical support, we hope government support is easier to access in a future ELM scheme – meanwhile, the Woodland Trust offer help with up to 75% of hedgerow planting costs through their MOREhedges scheme, and we hope growing interest in agroforestry, carbon capture and local nature recovery will open up more avenues for farmers to restore hedgerows.
You said that you want to be carbon negative by 2025, on a scale of 1 to 10 how far do you think you are towards that target now?
This is work in progress – maybe we’re a six or seven?
Our tourism business uses renewable energy, recycles and makes the best ethical and environmental choices it possibly can with cleaning products. Our farm will have greatly improved its carbon footprint this year simply by removing all manufactured nitrate fertilisers, but we have much more work to do – by reducing diesel machinery use and improving our hedgerows for a start.
To better assess how we’re doing with a move to carbon negative, we’re looking at Farm Carbon Toolkit and other ways to quantify our progress.
Why did you choose Organic Farmers and Growers for your organic certification body?
Straightforward communications and a very helpful certification officer helped – plus we knew a couple of farmers already with OF&G.
Do you have any immediate neighbours, and if you do how do you manage your potential impact on them?
We’re part of a community and neighbour a few different landowners. Hopefully the impact of what we’re doing will be negligible but we’ll keep trying to be a good neighbour.
Is your 100 cropped hectares in a fixed location or does it rotate around the farm?
The 100 cropped hectares are currently in fixed locations so that we can wrap them in options like flower-rich margins and wild bird seed mixes that stay in place for the duration of the agreement – but we anticipate moving plots slightly within fields allowing for difficult growing conditions or other reasons we can’t foresee – as long as we can stick to the areas we’ve committed to.
We chose the 100 hectares in twenty five-hectare plots as they are easily manageable plot shapes in better fields. Fields that have been less productive or have serious issues with runoff and erosion have been removed from production altogether and will be used for whole-field environmental options.