Farmer Focus Arable: Andrew Charlton is privileged to be farming

My favourite song right now is “I started out with nothing and I still got most of it left” – a phrase I’m considering having chiselled onto my headstone.

It’s exactly 10 years since I took over the Poplar Farm tenancy and I really did start with nothing, except perhaps enthusiasm to tap into any assistance going.

Were it not for the old Organic Farming Scheme I don’t think I’d have made it. The scheme was unique in my experience in always paying “up front”, and the difference that made to cash flow was immense.

The Organic Entry Level Scheme which replaced it is interminably slow to set up. It pays regularly but in arrears. I’ve also used the services of European Objective 5b, the ERDP Vocational Training Scheme and Countryside Stewardship.

I was particularly impressed, at the recent National Organic Cereals event, that support for new organic converters is much improved.

The Organic Conversion Information Service has been relaunched and Organic Farmers & Growers offer a great assistance package.

As a converting farmer you can borrow money at just 1% over base. You had to be a millionaire to get an overdraft at that rate when I began.

There have been lows and highs over the decade.

The memory of the winter of 2000/01 will stay forever because of the unbelievably wet conditions.

Coping with pests has, very occasionally, been a big headache – leatherjackets in sugar beet in 2001 and gout fly in spring wheat in 2007 standing out.

But overall it’s the huge progress we’ve made which heartens me. I remember my relief at getting 5t/ha from our first crop of winter wheat. Last year’s did 7.4t/ha.

I’m still immensely grateful for the opportunity I was given in 1999 and count being a farmer as being the greatest privilege.

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