Shimpling Park Farm is a mixed organic farm situated about 8 miles south of Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk. We manage our farm as a whole farm system under the Government approved organic certification body OF&G.
Our crops are all grown for specific markets. We grow organic wheat, barley and beans for British Quality Pigs’s organic herd, which are sold in Waitrose under the Duchy Original brand. Organic oats are produced for White Oats, organic spelt for Sharpham Park and organic quinoa for the British Quinoa Company. We never put a crop in the ground without securing a market for it. We also have 500 New Zealand Romney sheep which graze our two year grass and clover leys which are either sold locally or through the Organic Livestock Marketing Co-Operative. We also mill some of our own flour which is sold to local bakers.
We are in a Countryside Stewardship Scheme which runs until 2023 with the main focus being on landscape restoration, farmland birds and education. So far we have restored various farm ponds as well as two medieval moated sites, replanted hedges which had been formerly removed, coppiced ancient woodland and restored some of the medieval wood pasture in Shimpling Park. We do in excess of 25 school visits very year and well as evening walks for various interest groups.
Every year we plant 40 hectares of pollen and nectar mixes for pollinators and 10 hectares of wild bird seed mixtures. We conduct regular bird surveys with the last survey concluding, “The 17 year history of organic management at Shimpling Park appears to favour and encourage a stronger farmland bird community or at the very least may have prevented the declines experienced in areas dominated by intensive management.” The reversal of our declining arable bird species on the farm is something that we are particularly proud of.
We have a photovoltaic array on our grain store roof which offsets the electricity used by our electric grain drying fans. We also have two woodchip boilers which are fed entirely from the wood coppice from our ancient woodland which is in the middle of the farm. We also rent out a number of buildings to local businesses on a former USAF airfield at Lavenham.
In the video below (recorded in June 2020), John takes us on a fascinating tour around the farm. He takes us through the organic rotation including the fertility building leys and various crops grown and reasons for growing them, mechanical weeding (looking at the machinery used), why the sheep were reintroduced in 2014 and why the Romney breed was chosen. He also touches on a living mulch trial, a bean variety trial being run with PGRO focusing on reducing chocolate spot, and the net zero ambitions on the farm and sequestering carbon in the woodlands, permanent field margins and hedgerows. Working with the Farm CarbonToolkit has helped identify that the farm is currently ‘carbon negative.’
Sustainability in practice
Controlled Traffic Farming
We have developed a Controlled Traffic Farming (CTF) system on our fields with the aim of reducing tractor wheelings and therefore compaction on our soils. My inspiration came from Tim Chamen from CTF Europe Ltd. More can be found out about CTF on their website.
Essentially CTF means tractors run on the same track every time they enter a field treating the untracked part of the field like a bed never to be run on. This has obvious consequences of less compaction, better plant root development and optimum yield. We are seeing the benefits of more even crop growth, consistent and deeper rooting structures, better water infiltration and more earth worms.
The main challenge was coming up with the track width which would be future proof. In the end we decided on an 8.8m system and all our field implements fit into that track width apart from our combine harvester.
In this video, John describes the agroforestry recently implemented. In December 2020 they planted 3 fields totalling about 50 acres with 3,500 trees that mimic the species in the adjacent SSSI woodland and are ideally suited for the farm soil type. Between the trees they are growing organic arable crops (cereals and pulses) and will graze their sheep. The trees are planted in lines in the fields at 36m intervals, with 4m wide alleys. John talks about what inspired him, the reasons behind some of the practical decisions, how they plan to use and manage the trees and expected benefits; for livestock, people, wildlife and the environment.
Access a quick reference summary here: Agroforestry at Shimpling Park Farm.pdf
Find out more detail about the tree species planted and early practical considerations by watching this farm diary video made in December 2020 when they first started planting the trees.
This is part of ‘A National Networks of Agroforestry Farms’ project. Find out about it here.
View more footage of agroforestry at Shimpling Park Farm in this video filmed at OF&G’s NOCC21. It features Woodland Trust outreach adviser Jonny Ball talking about management of trees on the farm, the many ways in which trees can benefit your farm and farm business and, crucially, important points to consider when embarking on an agroforestry project; from determining whether or not there is a market for what you want to grow to whether your land is actually appropriate for planting trees… He also gives some guidance on the all-important question of who is going to pay for it…. Jonny explains some of the grant schemes available via the Woodland Trust. You can find out more here.
Farm System Health
John took part in the ‘Farm System Health in Practice’ project – which you can find out about here. In this video he gives us some insight into the principles of how he achieves health on his farm and how he relates his practices to the 10 principles of health defined in the project:
My family have been farmers in Suffolk for four generations and before that in Ayrshire and so there was considerable pressure on me to take on the family business!
I came to the farm in 1985 and it was typical example of post-WW2 agriculture. Many of the hedgerows had been removed to make the fields easier to farm with larger machinery as well as making way for an American bomber base. Cropping revolved around wheat, oil seed rape and sugar beet and was stockless with the dairy herd going in the 1960’s and pigs going in the 1970’s.
In the mid 1990’s I began to notice some of our better soils yielding less and some of them slumping. I also became increasingly concerned about the amount of chemicals we were using and I began to worry about their long term impact on my soils and wildlife.
A near neighbour of mine was farming organically and I spent some time with him working how a stockless organic rotation could run on our farm. In 1999 I converted 120 hectares and ran a 6 year rotation comprising of a 2 year ley followed by winter wheat, triticale, winter beans and then spring barley under sown with another ley. Not only did the rotation do slightly better financially than the rest of the farm I also found it to be a much more creative way to farm as well as a release from a high input system with costs I could increasingly not control.
In 2007 we converted the rest of the farm to organic production as well as other local farms we were farming for neighbours under contract farming arrangements. Our organic contract farming operation expanded, with us now farming a further 980 hectares for local farmers all within a 7 mile radius of our own farm.
Although farming a stockless arable rotation has been very successful my heart told me that we should reintroduce livestock to try and close the nutrient gap which we had been filling by importing manures and green waste. In 2014 we bought 250 New Zealand Romney ewe lambs with a further 250 following them in 2015. We have now closed the flock and intend to build it to 1,000 breeding ewes which will then be able to make best use of our 2 year leys. The flock all lamb outside and are pasture fed apart from the occasional winter supplement of haylage and oats all of which are grown on the farm.
My aims are to leave the farm’s soil in a better condition than I received it, increase biodiversity and make a profit!
When I converted the farm to organic production in 1999 I did a soil organic matter (SOM) test pre-conversion which gave us a 2.9% SOM result. In 2016 we had tests averaging 5.5% SOM.
The podcast below includes footage of John talking with a conservation agriculture no-till farmer (Clive Bailye) from an online event ‘Know your soils and know your sales’ that took place in July 2020 as part of OF&G’s NOCC. The conversation focuses on their approaches and practices deployed to equip their farming businesses with resilience and highlights differences and similarities between the different farming approaches.
You can find out more about John Pawsey and his work at Shimpling Park Farm by watching the farm diary films and following on social media.
John and Alice Pawsey and family welcomed guests to the farm in July 2021 for OF&G’s National Organic Combinable Crops on-farm conference.
Video footage below (from 2013) provides some interesting insights into the challenges and benefits of organic production…