PIGS & ARABLE, SOMERSET: Fred farms 250 acres (101 hectares) at the foot of the Quantock Hills in Somerset, growing traditional varieties of wheat, malting barley and rye. These old seed varieties are known as ‘heritage grains’. Everything he grows is sent for milling and sold to craft bakers.
He has 24 Tamworth sows which, during the summer and autumn, forage on herbal leys (a mixture of herbs, grasses and clovers for livestock to forage on), lucerne (also known as alfalfa) and cover crops (wildflowers and grass mixes planted after a crop is harvested). The pigs are also fed a ration made up of homegrown barley and beans. Fred also uses the straw from his crops for animal bedding.
The farm was purely an arable enterprise until 2012 when Fred decided to introduce pigs so their manure could be used to fertilise the crops, replacing synthetic products he used to buy in a bag.
The sows produce 350 piglets a year which are fattened on the farm and sold for meat to restaurants in London, Bristol and a local charcuterie.
Fred actually grew up in London and took on the family farm from his aunt 2009. Since then he has transformed it from a high-input, capital intensive business – where he was chasing yields but making very little profit - and pursued an alternative model, known as regenerative or agro-ecological farming.
Fred is passionate about preserving small, family farms and also believes farming on a smaller scale, without fertiliser and pesticides, is better for the soil, air, water, climate, biodiversity and, ultimately, the consumer. He has become so committed to this “small food” model that he has shaped his business around it. There is no commodity production on the farm whatsoever and the only thing he buys in are seeds.
On-farm decision making is filtered by two parameters: carbon and diversity. The carbon cycle is the engine room of the farm ecosystem, driving soil health. Fred believes this focus on carbon and diversity has enabled him to farm without agrochemicals. Building resilience into his soils, and therefore the crops, helps them respond to pest, disease and climatic threats - without massive fluctuations in yield. A side effect of this is that the farm sequesters (stores) large amounts of carbon in the ground. According to Fred, possibly as much as 40,000 tonne over 100 hectares in five years.
Despite being a zero-input system, the farm is not certified organic. Because the pigs forage outdoors, they take a bit longer to fatten compared to a more intensive or indoor system. To prevent the males reaching sexual maturity and creating a bad taste in the meat known as “boar taint”, Fred gives the male pigs a vaccine called Improvac. This aspect of his production system cannot be certified as organic, but Fred is happy with that because it allows the pigs to stay on the farm for longer. In the medium term the ambition is to transition towards full organic certification.
Despite growing up in the city, Fred has been obsessive about farming for as long as he can remember. For him the best thing about running a farm is that every good decision is rewarded. On the flip side, every bad decision has implications. He says: “I might only have 40 harvests left before I’m 70. That’s only 40 mistakes to learn from.”
Member of the National Farmers Union (NFU)
Previous media experience
Interviewed twice on Farming Today (BBC Radio 4).
Featured in the Independent Magazine and Financial Times.
Appeared on The Fabulous Baker Brothers: A Bite of Britain (Discovery)
Farmerama Podcast (Episodes 47 and 42)
Featured in Farmers Guardian (January 2020)