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Rethink Farming - Simon Best

  • Simon Best farms at Acton House Farm in county Armagh, Northern Ireland and won this year’s Arable Farmer of the Year at the Farmers Weekly Awards 2021
  • Inconsistent and volatile weather patterns, particularly in the timing of rainfall from year-to-year, have made soil health management one of Simon’s top priorities
  • Acton House Farm has been involved in Environmental Stewardship schemes for over 20 years, which has helped Simon to broaden his understanding of how he can positively impact the environment, biodiversity and soil health whilst also managing a productive farm business

“As an arable farmer, I rely on the health of my soil to underpin the high-quality food ingredients that I grow. Long term sustainability of my farm and land for future generations is a core purpose of the business – maintaining and enhancing soil health is integral to this.”

Photo: 25 March 2019, Mandatory Credit ©Press Eye/Darren Kidd

 

How do you deliver for soil health on your farm?

The main intervention is regular application of organic matter through manure and compost. Crop rotation, careful management and selection of inputs, regular soil analysis are also integral to delivering soil health.

What have been the benefits of these systems and how do measure their success?

The use of organic manures over the past 15 years has led to significant improvements in the levels of organic matter within my soils. I measure the percentage of organic matter regularly (every three years) as part of my soil analysis suite, with 8-11% now average across the farm.

It has taken time and a long-term commitment to really see improvement, however the outcome has been having soils that are now more resilient and manageable, less prone to waterlogging and have a consistent level of macro and micronutrients, resulting in improved crop health generally.

Measurement has been key to underpinning this commitment, with regular soil analysis, as well as leaf and sap analysis of the growing crop used to measure improvements and s to identify and remedy any deficiencies. Soil carbon analysis has recently been introduced to help establish a verifiable carbon baseline for the farm.

Top tips?

  • Ensure you can measure and account for all interventions – being able to measure improvement and success will ensure commitment over the long term
  • Work hard on adding value to products by promoting environmental good practice – this will ensure a business that is capable of sustaining a positive impact
  • Source the best available advice from a number of disciplines – soil health and nutrition, biodiversity and environment

What support do you need from the government to continue farming in a nature-friendly way?

Government support is vital to ensure farmers are able to adapt and transition to a more nature-friendly approach. Farmers cannot be expected to fund this alone and there needs to be a clear and achievable policy that supports nature-friendly farming, sustainable production and a thriving rural economy. Better education and improved promotion of UK food produce and supply chains will be important.

It’s important to recognise the wide range of landscapes and environments that exist across the UK and to ensure that support is targeted at the regional and local levels where it will have the biggest impact. We can’t have a ‘one size fits all’ approach and investment in local environmental networks will not only ensure fit for purpose habitat management and intervention but will also support education and encourage collaboration.

What would your message be to the public to encourage them to support farmers’ delivery of climate action and nature recovery? 

It’s crucial that the public take responsibility for the food choices that they make. Understanding where their food is sourced and supporting their local producers and supply chains will in turn support our local environment.