Wantisden Hall Farms, Suffolk
Tim Pratt’s enthusiasm is infectious as he describes how he is using outdoor pigs and sheep to add fertility to his light land Suffolk farm in order to improve intensive vegetable production.
He first turned to free-range pigs to remove potato volunteers and the crop’s biggest pest – potato cyst nematode – and also add nutrients to his blow-away sand land, as well as giving him a regular income.
Next came a flock of sheep to chomp through all the vegetable waste the farm churned out through the autumn and winter, and also use ungrazed heathland in the summer.
“Pigs and sheep help to improve the sustainability of intensive vegetable production on our very light land,” he says.
- Farming 1,351ha of land, of which 785ha is owned and the rest contract farmed
- Crops include potatoes, onions, carrots, swedes, spring greens, vining peas, sugar beet, maize, cereals and oilseed rape.
- Outdoor pigs, sheep and suckler cows introduced.
- Vegetables sold through 3 Musketeers.
Spuds are the most profitable crop in this south eastern corner of the county and he wanted to ensure a long-term future for potato growing by using grazing livestock.
The farm also grows a large area of carrots, onions, swedes and spring greens in this mild micro-climate close to the sea, and he needs to ensure profits from these crops keep flowing.
Tim has been managing the largely arable Wantisden Hall Farms stretching to 1,351ha for 10 years, some six miles east of Woodbridge, with the aim of increasing output and using unfarmed land.
The land farmed has doubled in his 10 years at the helm by contracting further arable areas, and the farm has invested heavily in irrigation on the owned land helping to boost yields of field-scale vegetables.
The two livestock enterprises fit in well into a busy cropping regime which sees Tim harvesting and planting in virtually every week of the year.
The rotation on the lightest land is potatoes, pigs, sugar beet, onions, carrots and winter cereals, with fewer vegetables grown on the heavier soils.
- Growing a wide range of specialist crops
- Integrating arable and livestock enterprises
- Good soil management of some very light soils
Potato harvesting starts at the beginning of June and can stretch into October, and is exacting as Tim looks to produce 1m tubers per hectare of the variety Maris Peer all under 42mm to meet the supermarkets’ tough criteria.
Yields can vary from 25t/ha for early crops to 50t/ha for later-lifted tubers.
The farm has banded together with five others to market its vegetable produce through a marketing arm 3 Musketeers, which is based on a nearby disused military airstrip, and markets direct to the supermarkets.
An anaerobic digester was added four years ago fed by maize, rye and sugar beet pulp to generate an income, and also gives Tim liquid and solid digestate to help cut fertiliser bills.
For the future, he intends to boost sheep numbers and also the farm’s small suckler cow herd which also grazes some of the heathland.
But intensive vegetables will continue the mainstay of the farm, and expanding production in a sustainable way while addressing environmental concerns will be key for Tim in the future.
“We are always highly impressed with the quality of our farm manager finalists. As farming continues to evolve this key role will require greater initiative, more imagination, courage and even greater commitment to the role of farm manager”
Jeremy Wiggins, UK sales and marketing manager