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Cousins working together on our family owned farm with the aim of running a commercial modern farm producing high yielding, high standard crops while maximising wildlife diversity. Brian is said to be the farmer and conservationist, whereas Patrick is a conservationist and farmer. This mix has given a new direction for the farm, building upon the work that our fathers and grandfather has done to improve the overall success of the farm business. The farm has gone from strength to strength with the farm being recognised at a national level winning the coveted National FWAG’s Silver Lapwing Award for farming and conservation in 2009 and then Patrick and Brian were named Countryside Farmer of the Year by the Farmers Weekly in 2010.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

From Green Bins - to Compost - to our Fields



Most people in their back gardens have a compost heap of lawn cuttings, veg peel and plant matter. Hard work goes into turning and maturing the compost before it is moved back on to the vegetable patch to produce a bumper crop of home grown vegetables. The compost adds vital trace element nutrients such as Sulphur, Potassium, Potash and Magnesium but also the rich organic matter helps the soil structure.  The worms get to work, moving up and down the soil profile feeding on the decaying compost, which helps with drainage and in turn, the organic matter in dry periods, retains more moisture so that the soil does not dry out as quickly. For these reasons, all gardens love good quality compost and farmers are no different.

Organic compost or farmland manures are highly sought after by farmers for the same reasons. Livestock manures are in limited supply due to the reduction in livestock herds around the countryside because of the weak market for British meat being out-competed by cheaper imports from Europe. We are one of those farms that have stopped livestock production due to it being 7 days work for 4 days pay. So, of course, in stopping livestock production we have stopped our pig muck production. The pig muck gave us this extra organic matter that helped our heavy clay soil to be more workable and give us these extra trace elements and some cheap added Nitrogen.
In the few years, since we stopped pig production we have been fortunate enough to have secured a supply of organic compost. This organic compost comes from material that the residents of Mid Suffolk District Council put out in the green waste bins collection. The material in every household gets collected and taken to special sorting sites. When it arrives is looks like rubbish, plastic bags and other non degradable objects are contaminating it but due to developments in special equipment at these sites, the rubbish is sorted and the organic matter is left. The plastic bags are unwanted, difficult and expensive to remove so please try and reduce the amount that you put in your green waste bins. The waste then goes through a series of graders, mulches, crushers and heaters to start the breaking down process.  The compost is then left to mature in long clamps of a few thousand tons being turned and viewed from time to time. Once it is fully matured and all the unwanted plastic removed, it is ready to be delivered to local farmers.
The farmers pay for delivery of the compost to the farm and it is stored in specially registered sites on there. The sites are registered with the Environment Agency so that any effluent that may be lost does not end up in any sensitive watercourses. The compost is then applied to the fields in between crops by a contractor or the farmer themselves.
We hire in muck spreaders and do the spreading ourselves as we have the labour to do so. With two spreaders and one loader, we can spread about 800tons a day depending on how far the spreaders have to travel. The fields for the compost are chosen by the farmer, usually being fields that have poor soil structure or are lacking in some nutrients. We apply the compost nice and thick, the rate is about 30-50t/ha we have to be careful not to apply too much to some parts of the field that are naturally richer than others. We have to look at the Nutrient maps of the field that we have in the office before we apply the compost and the maps show which areas are weaker and need a little boost.
The compost then is incorporated into the soil so that the goodness and benefits can sustain the ground for the next few years.  We apply about 3000t of compost a year depending on its production and availability, during this year’s very dry spring we saw the benefits of last years compost. The fields on which we spread the compost last autumn faired much better in the dry spring. We believe that the compost with is high organic matter absorbed more water when it was available and held on to it longer in the drying spring. The crop then benefitted from it, as this extra water was absorbed when the plant needed it most and we saw higher yielding crops in the fields post-compost due to this and the wealth of trace elements that it brings as well.
The compost is a vital source of nutrients and organic matter but also you do sometimes get a flush of unusual weeds! This caught us out in the first few years but we now plan against that in our herbicide plan.
So please keep putting out your green waste, try and reduce the plastic bags in it and we will keep taking it and putting it back into the soil to help produce high quality food for you all. Our soil is certainly much better off for this compost! BWB

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