Earlier this year, seven LEAF Demonstration Farmers took part in the Environment Agency’s Agriculture Placement Scheme. The pilot scheme enabled EA officers to shadow farmers and learn how their businesses work in order to increase their technical and practical farm business understanding. The trial worked well with great feedback from the Environment Agency and LEAF Demonstration farmers. Here, Robert Iles, Senior Environment Officer (Agriculture) at the EA, shares with us his time at High Meadow Farm, Shropshire…
I arrived at High Meadow Farm, nestled in a beautiful valley just a stones through from Ludlow in Shropshire, full of anticipation and not really knowing what to expect. Nick greeted me with warmth and humour and we immediately set off for a tour of the farm. From the yard I could see a majority of the farm down in the valley bordered by a wooded valley side opposite. A spectacular landscape leaving me excited by the challenges that lay ahead.
I got to work straight away cleaning plastic wrap and feed bags from the cattle yard, checking hedges and cleaning an old shed which was to be used as my rest room. The majority of my week with Nick was divided between the Ledwyche Brook – a steep sided tributary of the River Teme which was constantly carving its own sandy banks or in the valley below the farm. Tasks included clearing the brush from 60 bankside trees which Nick had chainsawed and from a log jam in the Brook and putting in 400 fence posts around newly planted fruit trees (a project Nick had initiated to reinstate a historic orchard). All hard, physical non-stop work, which was hugely rewarding and it was great to see I was making a real contribution.
The work was hugely varied with a trip on the sprayer, filling and washing the old cans in the induction hopper, a meeting with the local water company to apply for a grant, a trip to buy some oak trees to screen the new chicken sheds, and homework each night with the Ranger magazine report on implications of Brexit for egg producers. Nick had instigated a new business for 38,000 free range chickens and work was all go with daily deliveries, problems to solve and site checks to get the buildings complete before the chicks arrived.
There was never a dull moment but there was enough time to appreciate my wonderful surroundings and the effort being put in by Nick and his family to run a profitable farm using the principles of LEAF’s Integrated Farm Management. Each night I went to bed tired from the activities of the day but with a huge sense of satisfaction in what I had contributed to.
The most memorable moments came when I was asked to replant and replace the tree guards of several 100 meters of black thorn whips. The weather was warm and as I worked the valley was a riot of noisy field fares, robins and wrens singing as they combed the fields for dropped seeds or hopped through the hedgerows of this ancient landscape. But even more satisfying was the group effort of escorting a cow from the barn to the crush. While I held up her tail, Nick and his farm worker dealt with her ingrown toe and foot ulcer. She kicked and grunted but afterwards trotted back to the barn clearly a much happier cow.
I left High Meadow Farm (and Shropshire) reluctantly. Farming seems an ideal lifestyle but requiring considerable energy and constant movement mixed with considerable worry. The activities had been worthwhile and satisfying and the tremendous effort being made to maintain the environment for the future was clear to see. Reflecting on my experience now that I am back in my Environment Agency role, I certainly have a renewed respect for farmers who are true multi-taskers but I also now know a bit more about what we as an organisation can expect from these custodians of the land.
Coming soon! LEAF Demonstration Farmer, Philip Huxtable from JSR Farms Ltd, will be writing a blog about his experience of the EA Agriculture Placement Scheme from a farmer’s perspective.