Countryside Farmer Award shortlist: Andrew Hughes

The evidence was clear from this year’s finalists for the Countryside Farmer of the Year title that investing in environmental management can only improve the net profitability of your farm business as well as its sustainability. Debbie Beaton reports from Hampshire, Oxfordshire and Leicestershire

Visit Trinley Estate and you will be treated to a cornucopia of plant and wildlife goodies; from hares, butterflies and roe deer to wildflower meadows, new and ancient woodland, a wormery and “living” beech house.

Andrew Hughes and his wife Mandy came back to the family estate in 2004.

Getting away from the estate to work in other sectors helped Andrew look at the business with fresh eyes. In just eight years he has moved the accounts on this 700ha estate from a loss to a £500,000 net profit. As well as 620ha of arable, the estate has a small herd of White Park cattle, woodland, cottage lets

and a highly successful container storage diversification, Andover Storage.

Central to the success was a sustainable business plan that focused on maximising crop yields from the most productive land and concentrating wildlife habitats on the less productive land. The introduction of block cropping, a winter wheat, rape and spring barley rotation, minimum and zero tillage, as well as controlled traffic farming helped transform the arable gross margins.

Yields of all crops moved up considerably in eight years and fuel usage and soil compaction problems came down. And with the help of satellite mapping and agronomist Mark Glide, production costs on winter wheat are contained at around the £100/t mark, despite blackgrass and wild oat problems.

A new undercover spray filling station fitted with a tank for roof water, a bio-bed container to handle spray washings, solar panelling and a home-made rape cultivator/drill all contribute to carbon reduction. The home-built

Farm facts

  • Owned by Nelson Dance Trust
  • 620ha of three blocks of winter wheat, spring barley and winter rape
  • 80ha in ELS, HLS, woodland and grassland
  • 12 White Park cattle
  • 510ha owned and 218ha rented

Shakaerator-based system has cut rapeseed rates to 40sq m, nitrogen use by 60% and significantly reduced slug pellet application.

The changes that Andrew has made to the estate’s environmental well-being have been equally, if not more, seismic than the farm production innovations. On his return he set about utilising uncropped areas for the benefit of wildlife and re-establishing many lost and threatened plant species. He sought help from many organisations to create a comprehensive “flora and fauna habitat plan”.

HLS and ELS are now a significant part of that plan and the estate’s income, but he admits that the environmental measures in place go far beyond those specified in the agreements. “More efficient methods of crop production enable me to spend less time in the tractor cab. It means I have time to build diverse ecosystems, which is not only good for wildlife but is benefiting the estate, staff and visitors,” he says.

The White Park herd was introduced to graze arable reversion and other grassland, but the benefits in increasing insect biodiversity, selectively grazing wildflower meadows and attracting visitors have been a bonus.

The judges liked

  • Replacing lost species and habitats
  • Uses the farm business and diversification to free up resources and time to invest in environment
  • Spreading the message of “sustainable farming within a living countryside” to the public

It’s clear that Andrew, who is a keen and accomplished nature photographer, gets personal fulfilment and reward from sharing these environmental outcomes with others. There is a steady stream of visitors to the estate, from schoolchildren and the WI to wildlife groups and ramblers. Open Farm Sunday alone attracted more than 540 people this year.

Andrew’s influence goes way beyond the farmgate. He visits schools, talks about the estate’s “sustainable farming within a living countryside” at various farming and public-facing events and has also appeared on TV and radio to speak about the role that farming can play in protecting wildlife habitats.

A word from our sponsor

NWF logoCaring for the environment is at the heart of NWF Agriculture’s business. That is why we are so delighted to support the outstanding innovation and commitment of these three finalists in creating truly sustainable farming businesses.”
David Warrington, managing director, NWF Agriculture

Read more

Meet the other 2012 finalists

Find out more about the 2012 Farmers Weekly Awards including details on how to book tables for the event’s glittering London awards bash