Green Cover Case Study
Brewood Park Farm, Staffordshire
“To make the most of stewardship, you need to take a whole-farm approach – putting in time and paying attention to detail - to ensure it benefits the wider ecosystem and natural biology of the farm.”
– Farm manager, Tim Parton
Never leaving the soil bare is a motto firmly in place at Brewood Park Farm in Staffordshire, championed by farm manager Tim Parton. With the help of Kings technical advisor Jim Egan, Tim is working with the natural biology of the soils and wider ecosystem to support the requirements of Countryside Stewardship and boost profitability of the commercial enterprise.
Tim has worked at Brewood Park Farm for 29 years and is an advocate for getting as much from the soil as possible through improving soil biology. Alongside the arable operation growing milling wheat, malting barley for Molson Coors, OSR, spring beans, lupins, spring oats and grass for haylage, Tim’s focus across the 300ha is also on the Countryside Stewardship agreement options.
“We need to remain commercial and make a profit,” says Tim. “But we’ve always had the view that farming and the environment need to be treated as a partnership, with one benefiting the performance of the other.
“We work to make Countryside Stewardship suit us and our business, to reap the benefits of the grants by incorporating cover crops and a network of margins which supports the ecosystem on the farm. In turn, this boosts soil health.
“It’s something we’ve always done, but now we get the financial incentives to do it.”
Tim has worked with the Kings team for the last five years, gaining advice on seed mixtures and, more recently, how to get the most from Countryside Stewardship.
“At Kings, you’re guaranteed reliable, consistent advice, as well as good quality seed,” he says. “I’ve worked with Paul Brown on choosing the right mix to suit our farm, soil type and topography, and now have input from Jim on how to strategically achieve what I want from Countryside Stewardship.”
Jim Egan, Kings technical advisor, reiterates that it is a collaborative approach at Brewood Park Farm.
“We’re working very closely with Tim on this venture,” says Jim. “As much as we’re advising him on the best options for seed and rotation, we’re able to understand what does and doesn’t work in certain scenarios to relay to other customers.”
Choosing the right mix
Since working with Kings, Tim has opted to grow 50ha of the Super 10 Mix for his green cover crops, which contains quinoa, winter oat, oil radish, berseem clover, common vetch, linseed, buckwheat, phacelia, sunflower and rye.
“This is a really easy mix to use,” he says. “The seed is very small and straightforward to drill, and the crop establishes quickly. But, most importantly, there’s a synergy between all the species in the mix which can be seen through the improved soil biology.
“It provides the foundation for the ecosystem on the farm, offering a diverse canopy which benefits a range of pollinators from bees to butterflies and moths. This in turn creates food for the birds and mammals which should be synonymous with the region, but unfortunately we haven’t seen enough of over the years.”
As well as providing a habitat for native wildlife, the crop has returned a substantial quantity of organic matter.
“I want the soil to perform and support current and future crops on its own, without the need for additional chemicals. We’ve found that through the addition of these cover crops, we’re balancing the natural organic soil nutrition which allows the plant to combat disease and pest pressures.”
Proving the methods work
For Tim, knowing that the use of cover crops and incorporation of the margins is working to benefit the wildlife as well as the soil is key. However, he didn’t realise he would physically see the reward so quickly.
“To make the most of stewardship, you need to treat it as any other crop – putting in time and attention to detail to ensure it benefits the wider ecosystem and natural biology of the farm. By doing this, you hope to see the gains in improved soil health and more wildlife returning to the farm.”
The Belvide Bird Ringers use Brewood Park Farm to bird count. Since the conversion to more cover crops and margins, they have seen a huge surge in native birds, including barn owl, kestrel, woodcock, lapwing and over 80 skylarks.
Jim notes these incredible numbers show the rewards available by using the tools and grants available through Countryside Stewardship.
“This is Countryside Stewardship at its best,” says Jim. “We’re creating a habitat and food source for pollinators to provide food for small birds. The thickness of the crop at ground level is the perfect environment for small mammals to then attract the array of native birds.
“This is a visible indicator that cover crops are doing their job. These numbers are seen year-on-year which also shows the soil is providing the right nutrients for the crop to grow and flourish,” he adds.
For Tim, this is just the start of a long project of working with soil to get the crops to aid his business aims.
“The support from Jim and the team is invaluable as we progress to further adapt a regenerative agricultural approach to farming. We’re proving that the way we farm works commercially, and I hope that we’re showing others how to make Countryside Stewardship work for them.
“It may appear a daunting task but, with Jim’s guidance, we’re able to strategically make our way through the forms and work in partnership to enhance and adapt our farm to make it fit for the future.”
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