Farming Insight: Living with climate change on Suffolk’s coast

TIM PRATT farms at Wantisden Hall Farms near Woodbridge, and as a coastal farmer is on the front line in the battle against the effects of climate change. Here he explains why he felt it important to be pro-active by adopting a range of environmentally-friendly measures

WITH today’s social and economic turmoil, producing a sustainable and profitable business is becoming more and more challenging.

As farmers we have the added difficulty of climatic change where we have seen huge variations over the last few years.

For many, the extreme weather conditions such as last year’s dry summer, followed by this years wet summer, are seen as just being a nuisance. But as farmers we rely very heavily on the weather in shaping our farming incomes and the future of our business.

With help from the National Farmers’ Union and a number of other government bodies, Wantisden Hall Farms have recently launched a leaflet highlighting the climatic changes to our local areas, as well as a number of simple ways in which we may help to boost our farm resilience.

For many farms on the east coast of Suffolk, we have to be mindful of the way in which we farm due to the fragile and quite unstable sand land which we grow many root crops on.

The nature of the land pushes us to spring cropping ie growing vegetables, creating other issues such as land left bare over winter, potentially causing leaching and soil erosion. However at Wantisden Hall Farms over the last few years, we have been trying to address these issues in order to create a more sustainable, and hopefully profitable farm. With the help of an organisation called LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming) who have sustainable principles of integrated farm management such as soil, water, energy, and waste we can gain the balance between commercial farming, environmental sensitivity and the local community.

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This is essential in creating a business which can move forward in coming years.

Every part of the business has been studied looking at ways to change and improve, as well as considerable investment in some areas. Two large changes have been the reintroduction of livestock back onto the farm and the development of the AD (anaerobic digestion) plant.

Pigs and sheep have been brought back onto the farm and work well in conjunction with the type of cropping we do. The pigs benefit the farm in a number of ways. Not only do they create large amounts of manure to then spread back onto the land, but they also help clear up any volunteer potatoes and other weeds.

The sheep have also benefited the farm. Firstly, with the farm going into HLS (Higher level scheme) we required some grass marshes to be grazed and also Staverton Woodland. Secondly the sheep have been able to utilise crop residue and green cover crops such as stubble turnips. These turnips feed the sheep over the winter time but also importantly utilise and hold any crop nutrients from previous crops and reduce soil erosion.

With both the pigs and sheep, this hopefully in time will build organic matter, thus reducing our reliance on artificial fertiliser as well as creating better soil conditions and water holding capabilities.

The development of the AD plant on Bentwaters air field has enabled us to create an energy generating business, with many benefits for the farm and the local area surrounding it. With a guaranteed index linked income for the next 20 years, it has hopefully enabled us to create a more sustainable business, with the added benefit of no nutrients lost in the process of energy generation. In addition, from the initial maize which is being grown to feed the plant, nutrient rich compost is being produced from it, plus water which we are able to use to irrigate our other root crops.

This AD plant is one of the most efficient and automated plants on the biogas market, with an expected life span of 20 + years. Currently the plant is running at 0.5 Megawatt, but the second phase is in full swing at the moment, taking it up to 2.5 megawatt within the next few months.