Young farmer steers regen route on mixed family enterprise

Since graduating from Harper Adams University with a 2:1 in Agriculture, the Farmers Weekly 2023 Ag Student of the Year Harry Davies has returned to his family’s mixed farm in Herefordshire and cracked on at full speed with new projects and a new enterprise.

Harry considered working elsewhere in agriculture after his degree.

However, with some key developments at the 200ha (494 acre) home farm and plenty of newfound knowledge from three years studying and a year on placement, he decided there was no time to waste in progressing the family business.

See also: Young farmers: What do they need to succeed?

Harry now oversees the arable enterprise, which encompasses 50% of the farm’s land, and co-manages the 150-head dairy and poultry enterprises with his father.

In the past year, Hopes Ash Farm has started a new broiler business, added a slurry-only anaerobic digester and taken a more regenerative route with the integration of its enterprises.

Regenerative puzzle

Harry says that, when he returned, the farm had nearly all the pieces of the jigsaw in place to fit with his regenerative plans, but they just needed a bit of shuffling around.

“The final piece of the puzzle was a move to strip tillage with a Mzuri system – that was the bit I added to the arable when I started managing it,” says Harry. 

“The key role of the arable is to feed the dairy and poultry, but I have been trying to integrate the livestock into the arable more effectively.”

He now places a greater focus on the nutrient value of organic manures and has shifted spreading from autumn to help with compliance and reduce costs.

“In the spring, we are supplying a very clear crop need and it’s easier to see the cost savings on the artificial fertiliser we used in spring when we spread manure in the autumn,” Harry explains.

“This year, for the first time, our first dose of nitrogen was done entirely with slurry and poultry manure, which cut my artificial N requirement by about 50kg, and I grew an 11t/ha crop of wheat with 90kg of artificial N.

“I’m not saying I will do that every year, but I was very pleased with it.”

He also believes that by moving the time that the sheep graze the cereals from December to February, not only are they getting some good winter forage, they are also working as a disease and pest management tool.

“It’s a good example of a puzzle piece that was already there but, by moving it slightly, we’ve made it work better,” Harry says.

Business crossroads  

Having lost their turkey contract earlier this year, along with all other local growers, the Davies family were faced with three options.

Rent out the sheds that had previously housed “brood and move” turkeys, rip the poultry equipment out and store caravans, or fill the sheds with chickens.

They went with the latter and after spending £120,000 converting the sheds with chicken equipment, they signed a contract with Capestone for Better Chicken Commitment broilers, and now have 45,000 birds on site.

The one thing Harry hopes won’t hinder future progress on his own farm and in the wider sector is the inconsistency in policies and planning regulations.

“It’s not unique to me – the constant changes in policy create so many challenges. There is constant instability, which causes huge problems when you’re trying to mould a long-term business,” he says.

“Farms are like supertankers – they take years to change direction. With the annual cycle, and then other factors like a 12-month lead time on a machine, we can’t just change the business at short notice.”

Planning has also been tough for the farm in recent years – it took two years to get permission for a slurry store – so he hopes that local planners will be more supportive of agricultural projects that are driven by environmentally focused changes in government policy.

With plenty happening, Harry continues to host “walk and talk” events, welcoming members of the public through the farm gates.

He has also welcomed opportunities to speak at events and colleges since receiving his title at the Farmers Weekly Awards last October.

The Farmers Weekly 2024 Ag Student of the Year

The 2024 Ag Student of the Year Award is open for entries now. Enter yourself or nominate someone now on our Awards website.

See more