FW Awards 2009: Countryside Farmer of the Year finalist – Richard Bramley

Yorkshire grower Richard Bramley has had limited opportunities to expand the farm but holds a firm belief in making the most of what he already has.

Manor Farm at Kelfield encompasses 190ha (470 acres) of cereals and potatoes.

“My aim is to optimise yield and to attract price premiums wherever possible,” says Mr Bramley, who farms in partnership with his father, also called Richard.

The Bramleys’ milling wheat achieved 9.9t/ha last year and potatoes grown on contract to Walkers crisps have achieved yields over 50t/ha, despite losses due to long-term, store shrinkage.

About 7% of the farm is specifically managed for the benefit of wildlife.

More than 80 species of birds have been identified, some 10 of which are on the British Trust for Ornithology‘s red endangered list.

The business has embraced environmental stewardship, joining Entry Level stewardship in 2005.

Rather than undertaking the bare minimum, Mr Bramley says he was keen to provide positive benefits for wildlife.

He approached the RSPB and became a “volunteer alliance” farmer, assessing and improving farmland bird habitats.

Nesting boxes were placed around the commercial farm buildings to encourage bats.

Woodland now plays host to wild deer.

“Father and I do all the work, with a little casual help at peak times. Therefore we are able to give attention to detail and make sure the farm achieves its full potential. The environmental work I undertake complements the farm as a whole.”

The main diversification is the Dovecote Barns – a series of luxury eco-friendly self-catering holiday homes. Despite opening in December last year, summer occupancy rates this year are already over 40% – twice the estimate budgeted for.

The lets are heated by solar energy and biomass, with a proportion of the electricity coming from our own photovoltaic cells. “Converting some redundant barns into high-specification holiday lets was a major venture for us,” says Mr Bramley.

“We retained as many of the original features as possible, either, preserving, re-using or re-cycling them. A typical family farm can be productive and profitable, while keeping a firm eye on its environmental responsibilities.”

Environmental practices employed on the farm include hedge management, buffer strips drilled with six native grass species and a clover mix, a pollen and nectar plot, voluntary wildlife areas, field corner management and numerous bird boxes.

Water use is kept to a minimum through the use of trickle irrigation for the potato crop. All water courses are protected by six-metre grass strips, which are either voluntary or in entry level stewardship.

Irrigation is supplied to crops on a daily need basis, and scheduled by Cambridge University Farms. To further minimise the farm’s environmental impact, minimal cultivation techniques are used where possible.

A member of the Linking Environment and Farming (LEAF) initiative, Mr Bramley believes such principles offer a real alternative form of food production which will become increasingly sought after in the coming years.

Employment of good farming practice, and adherence to the principles of responsible pesticide applications under the auspices of the Voluntary Initiative have helped to improve soil conditions as well as yields.

“There is a real market, I believe, for food produce with a respect for the countryside. It is really very encouraging to see the efforts of those involved in promoting British agriculture helping to change the public’s perception of the industry.”

More farmers should be ambassadors for the best of British farming, Mr Bramley believes. The farm opens for Open Farm Sunday, which this year included two farm walks and a display of food production and countryside management.

“It is very important to tell the general public about what is being done for the countryside on Britain’s farms. With guests now staying on the farm, I feel we are almost permanently having a farm open day, although in a less intensive way.”

Earlier this year, a group of 40 third-year students from York University spend the afternoon on the farm, learning about agri-environment schemes. Mr Bramley has also promoted agriculture as a career opportunity during talks to local schools.

Farm facts:

  • 170ha arable farm
  • Milling wheat and potatoes
  • Trickle irrigation
  • All farm plastics recycled

Three achievements

  • 2500 trees planted in 15 years
  • LEAF member
  • Local NFU branch chairman

What the judges liked:

  • A dynamic farmer who demonstrates environmental responsibilities can be met when embracing new ideas that compliment the core business.