Soil Farmer of the Year announced at Groundswell

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Tracy Russell and David Newman, who farm in Buckinghamshire, are the winners of this year’s Soil Farmer of the Year.

A predominately market gardening business, the business takes a cash crop every four years, with the other three years sown with herbal leys for sheep grazing to boost soil health and fertility.

The award is sponsored by Cotswold Seeds and Hutchinsons and judged by representatives of the company, plus Innovation for Agriculture, the Farm Carbon Toolkit and previous winners.

Deborah Crossan, head of soils and natural resources at Innovation for Agriculture said that she was impressed by the diversity of approaches taken to improve soil health.

“During the judging visit Tracy and David shared how they are using chickens to clear the ground under the agroforestry fruit tree lines and how the agroforestry, together with the introduction of sheep grazing in the fields, has brought more natural predators to the farm,” she says.

“They are also making their own soil improver using their own green waste, composted wood chippings from a local tree surgeon and spent hops from a nearby brewery,” she adds.

Becky Willson, business development and technical director at Farm Carbon Toolkit and another judge of the competition, shares that the soil management practices undertaken are a phenomenal example of how consideration of soil can provide real and tangible results for a farm business.

“There are real opportunities to take some of the ideas that David and Tracy are using on their farm and apply them to other farming enterprises,” she says. “The prioritisation of soil health through a diverse range of practices was inspirational and a testament to what can be achieved.”

Ed Horton, Gloucestershire, took second place in the competition, while Ben Richards, Cornwall, was awarded third place. All three farms will now host farm walks.

“These farm walks will be a fantastic opportunity for farmers to share ideas, as well as seeing and hearing about the host farm’s practices, so I’d strongly encourage anyone who is interested in shifting their practices to improve soil health and increase their farm business resilience to come to one of these events,” says Becky.

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