|Farm facts – CLINTON DEVON FARMS PARTNERSHIP |
- Clinton Devon Farms partnership, the in-hand farming division of Clinton Devon Estates, based at Colaton Raleigh, near Sidmouth, Devon. About 1,200ha, now fully organic
- Enterprises include two 250-cow dairy herds averaging 6,500 litres plus a 1,100-ewe sheep flock
- Arable land has been reduced to 285ha
- Soils are predominantly sandy loams, prone to water erosion
- Average field size is just 4.6ha. The biggest is 8ha. One field has 14 in-field trees
- The farms are run by manager George Perrott, plus a team of eight staff. Mr Perrott was 2007 Farmers Weekly/Claas Farm Manager of the Year
- The whole estate includes 40 tenanted farms, 4,000ha of forestry, a sawmill, 400 houses and a woodchip biomass store providing fuel for wood-burning heat and power plants in the South West.
When Clinton Devon Farms turned organic five years ago, it did so for purely commercial reasons. That mantra hasn't changed in the intervening period and farms manager George Perrott believes it is still the right way forward for the business, which is why it has just renewed its Organic Entry Level Stewardship scheme membership for another five years.
"When the original scheme ended at the end of September, it would've been the first point we could have reverted back to conventional farming without repaying the organic part of the subsidy. But with a milk price of 39p/litre for November and cows yielding pretty well, we believe being organic still stacks up financially, which is why we've renewed the OELS."
Mr Perrott says the renewal process generally went well and he was impressed with the Natural England staff in Crewe, who were "very helpful and professional".
"It does take some time to go through the Farm Environment Plan forms and check areas, location of hedges and trees, but it's just one of those things you've got to sit down in a quiet room and get on with. It took me about three full days, but was helped by the fact that we'd already decided which fields would go into the scheme and forms were pre-populated with field numbers and areas."
Online satellite images can be useful tools to help in the process of identifying in-field or hedgerow features and adding them to paper maps, but it is still worth checking them on the ground, too, he says.
The only slight issue Mr Perrott encountered with the renewal process was that despite submitting the application in plenty of time as advised, the start of the new scheme was delayed by a month as they had to wait for the results of an archaeological search by Natural England to come back. It means the new schemes now run from 1 November, rather than 1 October.
Benefitting the business
The OELS scheme, which has a cap of 60 points/ha (£60/ha), is worth a total of £67,500 across the 1,125ha area (see table on p22), although this has been split into two separate OELS claims to aid future farm management decisions.
The larger scheme covers the 900ha around the main farm at Colaton Raleigh, while the 136ha at the nearby Dalditch dairy unit has been entered separately. These OELS claims are in addition to the 76ha of land at Houghton Farm that went into organic conversion this year, after the farm came back in hand.
The OELS options adopted across both schemes are broadly in line with the original scheme, although there have been a few changes this time around.
"We've only gone for options that fit our existing system," says Mr Perrott. "It's no use going for things that attract a lot of points, but are too onerous to implement."
Hedgerow management again features heavily in the renewed schemes, which is perhaps not surprising given an average field size of just 4-5ha. In total, 108km of hedges have been entered for one-side hedge management (trimming every other year) and 19km are registered for managing both sides every other year.
"We used to have more two-sided hedges in the scheme, but many of these are on roads and we found we were having to trim them every year for road safety. This means we couldn't claim them under the OELS for cutting every two years, so many are now registered as single-side only."
Mr Perrott says this issue highlighted the importance of having a points "cushion" whereby slightly more points are claimed than necessary. "Our plan has always been to claim 5% more points than needed to meet the 60 points/ha total, so even when we lost part of the double-sided hedge management claim, we still had enough to meet the required points overall."
Other options in the scheme include 120 in-field trees, 9.4km of half-ditch management, 6ha of overwintered stubbles and 40ha of low-input permanent grassland.
Overwintered stubbles were a particularly good fit for the farm, due to the 50:50 split between winter and spring cropping, says Mr Perrott. "We have overwintered stubbles in the rotation anyway, so it makes sense to get rewarded for them. Stubbles in an organic rotation do seem to be more beneficial than in conventional farming, because there is such a mix of weeds and herbs that come through after harvest."
Stubbles must be left untouched until 15 February, but this still gives plenty of time for cultivations ahead of spring drilling, which doesn't normally take place until March or April, when soils are warm enough.
"There were more points available for overwintered stubbles after wholecrop, but that didn't fit with our system, as we normally put turnips in after wholecrop."
The low-input permanent pasture was also a relatively easy win, as many of the requirements - such as not being able to apply sprays or fertiliser and restrictions on slurry application and topping - were already being observed, he says. "We put some of the steepest sloping fields into this option, as they're unsuitable for much in the way of topping or slurry spreading anyway. It's not a massive area, but it is worth quite a lot of points."
While Mr Perrott is happy with the OELS renewal process, he still believes the scheme should include an option to compensate farmers in Nitrate Vulnerable Zones. "It's so unfair that people in NVZs have to go to the extra expense to comply with the restrictions when those outside them don't. My feeling is that the ELS scheme, whether organic or conventional, could be a springboard for compensating for NVZ compliance, be it a number of points for being in an NVZ or an addition to the total allowance of 60/ha."
|Clinton devon OELS options (total for all three schemes) |
|Farm Environment Plan
|Farming to organic standards
|Hedgerow management on one side
|Hedgerow management on two sides
|Half ditch management
|Permanent pasture with very low inputs
|Points required: 67,500, actual points total: 70,973 (105%) |
|Dairy margins (January to October 2012) |
||Average price (p/litre)
||Margin over concentrates/litre
||Feed rate (kg/litre)|
|Otter Farm (autumn calvers)
|Dalditch farm (spring calvers)