Conservation Crops Case Study

Nonington Farms

"We're not just farmers. Our primary role is to be land managers, so although there may be a short-term hit when you focus more heavily on conservation, there will be long-term benefits to the environment and economically, helping to extend the longevity of the business."

- Hugo Dwerryhouse, farm manager

 

Nonington Farms is committed to protecting the environment and building farm resilience, with a strong focus on stewardship while exploring the best conservation crop mixes and onward management to suit the farm.

Farm manager, Hugo Dwerryhouse, works closely with Frontier’s commercial lead for sustainable crop production, Richard Barnes, and Frontier farm trader, Guy Hewitt, to support this goal. 

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Farm manager, Hugo Dwerryhouse

Based in Canterbury, Nonington Farms comprises 400 acres of a family farm enterprise, with an additional 3,000 acres contracted out across five clients in the area. Arable cropping and herbal leys make up the majority of the crop rotation, with a mix of wheat, oilseed rape, beans, spring barley and spring oats.

Hugo manages the breadth of cropping alongside environmental activities across the acreage, while also advising on funding opportunities for contracted clients - including options within the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI).

farm’s remit extends to education too. As a LEAF Demonstration Farm, the team can welcome around 1,500 visitors from local groups and schools annually to share in the ‘farm-to-fork’ supply chain story and better understand where their food comes from.

Countryside Stewardship

Nonington itself has taken a regenerative approach to land management since 2017, aiming to reduce reliance on pesticides and artificial nitrogen. In order to future-proof the business and support the farmed environment, the unit has committed 20% of its land to Countryside Stewardship.

Hugo explains the range of benefits seen with this approach: “Farming can become exclusively about the profit you can achieve each year, but by putting land into Countryside Stewardship and taking opportunities for private funding schemes, we can create a consistent profit every year and support the environment while we’re doing it. 

“Committing at least 20% of the land into Stewardship has helped us to take infertile land and improve it, while also boosting the average income per hectare. We can also build a resilient business model, economically and sustainably.”

He continues: “We’re not just farmers. Our primary role is to be land managers, so although there may be a short-term hit when you focus more heavily on conservation, there will be long-term benefits to the environment and economically, helping to extend the longevity of the business.”

Plots are committed to wild bird cover, wildflower meadows and legume fallows, and cover crops are also incorporated into the farm’s rotation as part of the Countryside Stewardship plan.

Since starting the agreements, Hugo says he has seen a noticeable difference in beneficial insects, with more parasitic wasps, ladybugs and carabid beetles present. “There’s also an increase in skylarks and more English partridge on the farms.”

Alongside Countryside Stewardship, Hugo is exploring options to stack private funding alongside the SFI as it helps to keep income flowing while maximising benefits to the environment.

For example, involvement in a Southern Water environmental scheme means Hugo and the team receive support to take nitrogen samples in January from every field that’s going into a cereal crop. This gives Hugo a better understanding of how the soil is utilising nitrogen and from the data, each field can be treated on an individual basis to ensure a more targeted use of fertiliser. This means nutrient can be delivered where it’s needed most, while ensuring surrounding areas are protected from run-off or excess applications. 

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 Stewardship plot 1  Stewardship plots

Mixture choice

Hugo has worked closely with Kings to determine the best mixes to support the farm’s Countryside Stewardship activities. Richard explains, “We will visit the farm at least twice a year to provide strategic direction and tweak the mixes where necessary.

“At Nonington, there were previous plots dedicated to attracting wild birds and planting wildflowers, but these weren’t necessarily carried out with agronomy in mind, so we’ve worked with Hugo to tweak drilling dates to give the crop the best chance and rotate plots to better suit the environment.”

Speaking of meeting specific option requirements, Richard says, “To meet the Countryside Stewardship objective of AB9 for wild bird plots, we recommended using our Campaign Mix South or Moir Mix.

“Both are beneficial for encouraging wild bird populations, but the Campaign Mix is also good for broadleaf weed control while Moir Mix can combat grassweeds. Where there has been a particular weed burden identified, these mixes can help to improve these fields and bring them back into the rotation. 

“Our wildflower mixes have also been used to meet the AB8 part of Countryside Stewardship, as well as our Bumblebird mixes for AB16. Both are simple to establish and can be drilled in August,” he says.

Speaking of the legume fallow option that Nonington also included as part of its Stewardship plan, Hugo explains: “It went into two small fields that had a high pressure of black-grass. We hope now that it will help us improve the soil, smother the weeds and build fertility.”

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Cover cropping

Cover cropping has been a key component of the farm’s conservation and land management plan too.

Huge explains: “Cover crops have allowed us to focus on soil health and improve individual fields which we could then bring back into the rotation, and they’ve also helped overcome weed control issues in problematic areas.

“We put in cover crops over the winter to improve soil health and then we graze them off, before putting in a spring crop.”

Richard explains that for cover cropping, they decided to use two mixtures which comprised a grazing mix and soil conditioner mix.

“Alongside this, Hugo and the team at Nonington have started their first steps into seed production of phacelia and buckwheat.

“These are particularly niche crops for the UK but with farm resilience in mind, it’s a good idea and an asset to be able to produce seed in the UK,” he says.

Future plans

In the years to come, Hugo plans to continue incorporating Countryside Stewardship schemes to build a business model that is resilient to challenges.

“In the next 5 – 10 years, I hope we continue our commitment to improving the soils and the farmed environment,” he says. 

Guy Hewitt, Frontier farm trader, says that Hugo and the team at Nonington Farms are progressive in the way they’re approaching conservation on-farm, but importantly they haven’t lost sight of the commercial aspect of their business.

“Nonington Farms is looking at the longer-term goal and is adding value to the business, which is admirable and will have benefits in the future for both productivity and the land,” he says. 

 

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