Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Sainsbury's 'Farm For Life'

Well, on the 23rd November, at the BBC Good Food Show, the stage was set for Salisbury's second Farming Conference.  The event was to show case and demonstrate the commitment by the Salisbury's Supermarket to British Farming and they had asked me to talk about the carbon footprint of our sheep flock and how we are using, the information to make efficiencies.  Well over 1,000 farmers from the dairy, cheese,  pig, poultry, lamb, beef, egg, grain, fruit and vegetable supply sectors were invited and I have to admit to being just ever-so slightly nervous!
First up on stage was Justin King (CEO of Sainsbury's), who gave us a brief introduction and update on the performance of the supermarket, in difficult trading conditions. Judith Batchelar (head of Sainsbury's own brand) was next on stage introducing the 20 by 20 sustainability plan which will be a challenge, and one that will give British farmers opportunities in the future.  Then the farmers took to the stage. First up was Chris Batchelar from Essex who introduced us to his fascinating Strawberry business.  Up next was Vicky and Kate Morgan from Yorkshire who gave us an insight into the future with their concept pig farm, then after a long wait, it was my turn!
After a quick introduction to the farm business I recalled our reasons to work with a strong, sustainable, secure business like Sainsbury's.  Our carbon footprint is made up of various measurements and performance indicators from the sheep enterprise.  Things like numbers of lambs produced per ewe, how much purchased feed we use, our farm cropping, cultivations and soil management.  It includes our fuel and electricity consumption.  The calculation finally gives us a value, a line in the sand, which we can use to compare with other similar farms and then we can start reducing the value.  
The main areas that impact our carbon footprint are,  lambing percentage, grassland management, age of the lambs at slaughter and the lambs daily liveweight gains.  With help through the Sainsbury's Lamb Development Group we've been targeting these areas to make our sheep flock more efficient, therefore producing less carbon.
In addition to the Carbon Footprint we're looking at the Environmental Scorecard, which looks at the impact of the business on the environment.  Topics include, flock health plans, livestock breeding, performance and nutrition, fuel management and our handing facilities. Last year we scored 355 out of 500 and this year we were up to 395, so a good improvement but some way to go.
I really enjoyed the experience of talking to such a large group of farmers about what we are doing at Overbury, even though it was slightly daunting (until I got going).  A big thank you to Purple Patch Events who organised the photographs (with Jonathan Banks ) and put the presentation together and to the Sainsbury's Agriculture team for their help and support.

Monday, 28 November 2011

LEAF Water Management Training

Today we had a really interesting meeting with a select group of people for a follow up meeting on the LEAF Water Management tool.

From January 1st this year we have had about 55% of our annual rainfall on the farm and it is still very dry so the water training comes at a very poinient time.  We know it is a very precious resource and we need to learn how to use it wisely.

Our training today was reviewing the LEAF Water Tool for each of our farms.  This tool was launched at the LEAF Presidents Event earlier this month by Jim Paice  MP (Agriculture and Food Minister), demonstrating the importance of water as an issue.

Then we moved onto how we use our water knowledge to pass onto other farmers to become a 'Water Champion'.  This means using our skills in communication learnt through our LEAF 'Speak Out'
training to encourage other farmers to learn more about water use and it's protection.  There is much to learn about how we use water on the farm, from reducing its use or increasing the quality of the water leaving our farmland.  I will try and keep you updated on how our journey progressess, but to start off with here's a silt trap and bio bed that we have just created on the farm to do just that.  bio bed


Thursday, 3 November 2011

Testing Our Fertiliser Spreader

Last week we had our annual testing session for the two fertiliser spreaders that we use on the farm.  The main spreader that applies the Phosphate, Kieserite and Potash fertiliser is a KRM Bredal.  We bought it in 2006 and it applies about 200 tonnes of fertiliser a year.  This fertiliser has a value of about £66,000 per year so for a very small testing fee (£150) it means that our investment is being evenly and accurately applied to the field.
The first task is to set up the catching trays, these are placed every meter.

Then with each different type of fertiliser being tested, even same brand types vary in their granule size every year, the tractor drives across the field and the fertiliser being spread is caught and viewed in the test tubes as shown below.
Correct fertiliser application is so important, not just for the economics of not wanting to waste money but for environmental reasons.  Using things called boarder discs on the headland (first time around the field) the spread pattern is cut in half to avoid spreading into the field margin or worse still into the ditch or stream.
The correct speed of the spinning disc's is also important, too fast and the granules could be thrown off the field, or even break up  the granules with the impact, leading to uneven application.  Too slow and the fertiliser won't spread far  enough to cover the width of the machine again resulting in uneven application.

So we are now ready to go, weather permitting to start applying the Phosphate fertiliser, evenly and accurately.  We will be applying the fertiliser again this year using variable rate GPS technology using the SOYL sampling technique. I will be updating the blog when we get going!