Arable foreman Steven Gate may come from a long family line of dedicated Cumbrian tractor men but his contribution at Brackenburgh Home Farms goes way beyond driving machinery.
This 43-year-old father-of-three is crucial to the success of a large sporting estate of 5500 acres at Caithwaite near Penrith. The business includes 11 let farms, forestry, 1200 acres of arable including cereals and potatoes, plus 800 breeding ewes and 200 milking cows.
The ethos of the farm has been to adopt progressive practices if they improve the bottom line and Steven has a good working arrangement with farm manager James Turner to move the business forward in an integrated way. Planning and co-operation with other staff is crucial as wheat is used for dairy rations, muck is used for spreading and stubble turnips are grown for the sheep.
Steven’s role is wide ranging and has evolved over 11 years to include maintenance of all farm machinery, planning the crop rotation and spray programmes as well as managing the cultivation and establishment of all crops sympathetically.
Steven is meticulous in everything he does from paperwork, to field management to the tidiness of the farm yard. “I want what we do to be right,” he said. “We farm in a goldfish bowl because we were the first in the area to go down the minimum cultivation route and everyone watches us. We have a proud reputation in the area. We have produced crops in some pretty horrendous circumstances up here and we always deliver above standard quality grain.”
James Turner is particularly impressed by Steven’s “can do” attitude. “He is a solid member of staff that sticks the whole unit together. He is on the ball with everything he does,” he said.
Changing practices and being forward looking are key to the success of this diverse enterprise. The farm regularly hosts demonstrations and workshops, enabling Steven to showcase his work, particularly the cereals operation which is easily viewed from the A6 and M6. This profile means the farm is also frequently involved in trials with commercial and scientific bodies. This year, Steven is working with ADAS to sample, survey and monitor 6m field margins. Newcastle University is also conducting work on farm on behalf of the EU to look at reducing nitrogen losses to water. The farm is linked with FWAG and recently hosted a resource efficiency event to demonstrate best practice in fertiliser and slurry use and the management of field margins and hedgerows.
Steven is a strong advocate of careful environmental stewardship and the farm is in the CSS, HLS and ELS schemes. This year, the use of nitrogen satellite imagery has saved 35 units of nitrogen/acre by variable spreading on min-til established wheat following oilseed rape. This equates to saving £11/acre with nitrogen at £210/t.
Embracing new technology and ongoing learning are both important to Steven. He is BASIS and FACTS qualified and his manager James says “he is always looking over the hedge, innovating and searching for new opportunities that may improve or assist the arable or other enterprises”.
Steven’s mantra is that farming is a way of life and not just a job and he really does live up to that ideal in a way which benefits the farm’s profitability and motivates him personally.
THE JUDGES LIKED
• His passion for hands-on farming and continuous learning
• Good working relationships on farm and within the wider industry
• Commitment to high standards
• Large mixed estate in Cumbria
• 200 milking cows, 800 breeding ewes, 700 acres of cereals and 50 acres of potatoes plus forestry
• Embraces technology and new working practices