We produce (on average) conventional wheat at 7.8 tonnes/hectare (milling and feed), barley (malt and feed) at 6.5 tonnes/hectare, beans (for human consumption) at 2.5 tonnes/hectare, grass fed lamb at 155%, and around 2,100 homebred lambs. We also have brought in lambs, and take cattle for grazing. We have a mobile dairy and are aiming to milk 400 cows. In addition, we rent out buildings for commercial uses and rent out houses for residential accommodation.
Our produce is currently traded in the commodity markets, but we have a longer term goal of moving away from this and more towards local trade of organic produce.
We have adopted a direct drilling system on the farm, with the assistance of minimal tillage when necessary, in an attempt to maintain ground cover, build soil structure and diversity whilst reducing costs. We use global positioning systems and the latest aerial imagery to create detailed maps, enabling us to pinpoint areas where site specific management is required. For example, increasing sowing density or improving the organic matter within the soil. This allows us to enhance the natural potential of the land for the future whilst helping to minimise our reliance on chemical inputs.
Whilst the farm business is important to us, we also recognise our role as stewards of the countryside. We aim to maintain the land through our management practices, improving and growing the potential of our beautiful landscape, and the wildlife that thrives here.
We began adopting more of a holistic approach in 2012 when we realised that all arable farming, since the closure of our dairy 10 years earlier, was becoming increasingly difficult to maintain. We were struggling to improve yields year-on-year, in spite of growing expenditure on increasingly sophisticated inputs and technology. It was clear that the soil was becoming lifeless and lacking in organic matter and we needed to have a new approach, to get the soil back to maximising its potential and for the land to remain profitable.
As a result, I introduced true mixed farming back into the land holding, through adding four years of herb-rich leys into the rotation, and rotationally grazing these leys with a mix of animals including cattle and sheep (chickens and pigs will also be integrated in the future). Breeding ewes and beef cattle were brought in to help with soil improvement and to maintain an economic output from the leys. The animals are grazed in a way that ensures that the whole farm gets the benefits from the grass and livestock, by keeping everything mobile. Costs are kept to a minimum by copying nature. Lambing is in May, at the same time as when our native deer population start calving.
The productivity and carbon-building capacity of the grass is improved by leaving long periods of rest between each grazing, allowing the plants to recover. The health of the system is promoted by mixing the class of livestock that run over the ground. The carrying capacity of the land will be increased by following the grazing animals with a mobile pig and poultry unit, a technique called enterprise stacking. I saw this technique in the US on a farm called Polyface, while I was traveling during my Nuffield Scholarship.
It is hard to tell exactly how our farming system has benefited as no grass has been taken out for arable production yet, but the soil structure and colour has improved dramatically, and wildlife surveys conducted by the local wildlife trust show a lot of promise. While we have made the same sort of money as previously, we have added a whole new layer of resilience to our system by adding the leys.
The biggest challenge for me and others I have spoken to who have undertaken new projects have been social issues. Change management is a huge subject that needs to be understood to maintain focus in what is a long-term project. Anyone interested in doing this will find that the hardest step is the first one. You should get on and do it, however you should be prepared for the low point that will naturally occur when undertaking any change. Never be afraid to seek mentorship, and keep talking to others.
"I believe in growing potential - seeing the potential in everything that I am involved in and helping people realise the potential of being better than they are today, and helping them get there. Success grows success."
I am the fourth generation of farmers in my family. I studied agriculture from 13; doing a GCSE in agriculture at Brymore secondary school and then completed a degree at Harper Adams in 2004. I returned home after this and took over the management of the arable crops on the farm.
In 2011 I was accepted into the Nuffield Scholarship program, and wrote a paper entitled ‘Understanding and implementing sustainability.’ The Nuffield experience gave me great insight into the way I wanted my business to run in the future. I realised that I needed to think differently about what I was doing as a farmer.
I am really interested in solar energy; capturing as much as I can and converting it into human usable energy as profitably as I can. The main engine in this exchange process is the green leaf, and in order to get the most from the green leaf, I need to have a readily available source of nutrients and water. I believe that the cheapest and most resilient way of doing this is naturally, through investing in soil health. I also need to maximise the amount of green cover I have on the land throughout the year.
It was due to this realisation that I put half the farm down to a four year herb-rich and red clover ley that would maintain green cover 365 days a year, increase organic matter levels, and due to the diverse rooting characteristics, would help aerate the soil and make many more nutrients that are locked up in the soil profile available.
As a result of my research on sustainability, the five golden rules we follow on the farm are:
- We will choose to support local businesses.
- We know that quality products will lead to the way to greater profits.
- We are proud of what we do, how we do it and where we do it.
- We will do good to all our people.
- We know there is an abundance of opportunities within our land holding.
I feel that my greatest achievement so far has been completing my Nuffield Scholarship and working towards putting my recommendations into practice.
Tim has recently converted the farm to organic status and is now an OF & G licensee.
Find out more about the latest activities at Kingsclere Estate by following Tim on social media.
Listen to ‘Meet the Farmers’ Episode 6. – Tim May at Pitt Hall Farm' to gain more insights into Tim’s farming approach.
The most recent video 'Power Grazing' (see below) demonstrates the ways in which grazing animals can be used, as Tim says, "as a tool to recuperate the soil."