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October update

It has certainly been a hectic month, no let up post-harvest here at Nonington Farms as this blog post gives you just the highlights!

Farmers Weekly Awards 2023

Our biggest highlight this month has been the Farmers Weekly Awards on the 5th of October. 
It was such a fantastic night with the team and 1200 others from the farming community, and we were absolutely thrilled to be crowned Environmental Champion of the Year

Sustainable farming for the future

In between harvest prep, farm visits and awards ceremonies, Emma and James have been busy sharing more on their sustainable farming journey. Emma was invited to speak at the launch of Making Space for Nature in Kent & Medway and share how Nonington Farms successfully farms with nature, and James was invited to the Canterbury Farmers Club to share Nonington Farms strategy on building a sustainable farming business today. 

Wheat Drilling

Wheat drilling has begun in earnest this month, and has been particularly exciting this year as we tested out our new addition to the farm fleet, a Horsch Avatar 12m direct drill. We are hoping this will make a difference in reducing the soil disturbance and cutting the amount of times we have to cross the field. It should also reduce the amount of weeds that germinate, thus improving black grass control. The other benefit of all this is that diesel usage is halved because less energy is spent in moving soil. 

Cover cropping

Our other important crops being drilled this autumn are our cover crops. These are grown between harvest and spring sowing to protect and improve soil health. The crop is then mob grazed before the spring crop is drilled. Mob grazing is a low input system where livestock graze areas of the crop for a short period of time. The grazed areas are then left to rest and the herd move on to graze another area. 

Nonington Farms are currently working together with Southern Water, FWAG and AHDB on a trial to reduce excess nitrate in the soil, which would otherwise leech into groundwater and impact drinking water. The project will be trialling the impact of early grazed cover crops on groundwater nitrate levels. This trial starts next month. 

Autumn is also a good time to look beyond the cash crops and at the countryside stewardship options. This includes the management of our flower-rich plots, which is especially important over the winter period as it provides essential habitat and food sources for birds and insects. The AB8 margins are topped which helps with better establishment of wildflowers whilst removing weeds and reducing the spread of weed seeds.

Topping is typically a machine-dependent process; however we like to avoid this wherever we can with the help of Oink and Udder’s cows, who seem to thoroughly enjoy the job as pictured below!

AB8 Management with the help of cows grazed by Oink and Udder

This autumn we have also drilled herbal leys: a mixture of grasses, clovers, chicory, and herbs to improve soil health, and re-drilled the bumble bird plots to provide an ample supply of pollen and nectar-rich flowers throughout the winter. Our bees seem to love the pollen rich environment they live in, producing twice as much honey on the apiary at Nonington Farms than elsewhere. Beekeeper Sue, has, however, had to put up Asian Hornet traps to ensure the bees aren’t unduly affected by this predator next year. 

Chicory wildflowers

Education, food and farming discussions

After meeting earlier this year at Groundswell, we were delighted to welcome Writtle University to the farm to share our approach on regenerative farming. We took the team on a tour of the farm to demonstrate exactly how we have developed our low input system and enjoyed some challenging questions on our approach. They also met Chloe from Oink and Udder whose cows and pigs participate in woodland/scrub management and mob grazing, and new entrant Jack Scott who grows nature friendly vegetables on the farm, supplying local restaurants and farm shops.  The students were very engaged with everyone they met, and further connections have been made between students and various members of our team, which is very encouraging. 

Writtle University chatting to Chloe who runs Oink and Udder.