ARABLE & SHEEP (ORGANIC), SUFFOLK: John runs an organic mixed arable and sheep farm on 1,606 acres (650 hectares), as well as managing a further 2,100 acres (850 hectares) for neighbouring organic farmers. The land lies south of the historic market town of Bury St Edmunds and features ancient woodland, hedges, and river valleys.
Despite having no farming background, John stepped in to run the farm in his early twenties after his maternal grandfather died. “I now see that as a positive as I came to the farm with a blank slate,” says John. “I did get a training at the Royal Agricultural College in Cirencester (now a University) though.”
The farm’s crops include heritage wheat, grown for local millers and for animal feed; oats for breakfast cereals; malting barley for organic brewing; beans for animal feed; chia seed; and lentils, sold to Hodmedod’s. The farm also supports a thousand New Zealand Romney sheep which graze outdoors year-round on the farm’s leguminous rich herbs, grasses and clovers.
Renewable energy is used to power the farm’s grain drying fans, and also heats most of the 17 rented properties on the farm, which are a combination of domestic and commercial.
John started to convert to organic production in 1999, a step he admits was a huge challenge. “I’m still learning,” he says. “Having been trained as a non-organic farmer, it was tough changing my mindset to really thinking organically. Buying a new farm and buying other family members out of the farm and the farming company was also tough but I managed to do it in such a way that everyone was treated fairly and we can still all sit around a table together.” Getting good robust information has also been difficult at times, as has marketing organic grains, he says.
But on the plus side John loves engaging with his customers which never really happened when he farmed non-organically. And seeing wildlife thrive has been another reward. “Getting more wildlife back onto the farm and improving our soils has been the most enjoyable challenge and that is now beginning to bear fruit.”
John works closely with the Suffolk Wildlife Trust, which does all the farm’s surveying, a process which is repeated every five years. The Trust’s surveys, he says, have found a healthy mix of birds, pollinators, arable weeds, dragonflies, ponds, bats, soils and butterflies. “Everything is going in the right direction!”
John is a well-respected commentator on organic and environmental issues, and is experienced in dealing with the media.
As an organic farmer, John sees the benefits in practice and would like to communicate these to other farmers. Having brought sheep onto his farm, he also feels there's scope to demonstrate the advantages and positive animal welfare practices of mixed farming to a wider audience.
A member of the National Farmers Union and former chair of its organic forum.
Numerous interviews with local and national TV, radio and press.