Farmer Focus – Anna Jackson

March 2024

February is supposed to be quiet? 

For those that I haven’t met before, hello, my name is Anna and I’m 4 years into farming. I grew up on our family farm but made the move to return 4 years ago and haven’t looked back since. You may have met my Dad, Andrew Jackson, as he occasionally writes articles here too. DD asked me to write an article because I’ve got quite a few projects going on at the moment that are making my February bloody busy and reducing my hours sitting on the sofa with a cuppa. 

First off we are coming up to lambing and for the first time ever we are going pasture fed only and lambing outside, a very terrifying prospect for me. We’ve always bought around £1000 worth of nuts to keep the sheep in good health ready for lambing. However, this year I have direct drilled 90 acres of grass which can happily keep my 74 sheep fed until lambing, if anything we have too much grass. After my sheep have come off this grass it will be used for outdoor pigs. This means I have to anxiously wait until the 15th of March to see how it all goes and in the meantime compared to last year where I was feeding them every day, this year all I have to do is top up their mineral bar once a month and check on them daily. I feel rather helpless but also a little smug as I’ve managed to reduce my workload. 

The next adventure is drilling our ‘boats’, beans and oats. This is all very new to me, I am the drill person on the farm. A job I absolutely love, we have a Horizon drill. However, I have never drilled boats before, a mixture of oats and beans. On the farm it is usually me who persuades Dad to try new ideas and sometimes I can work at him for a good 6 months until he says yes. I tend to go for a really crazy idea first then I’ll slowly make it more realistic. However after fighting for boats, I didn’t expect him to say yes straight away. So now I have to figure out the seed depth, which hoppers to use and fit that all around finding a weather window (near impossible with all of this rain we’ve had). Plus harvest. I’m really excited to see how we get on and I’ve promised Dad I’ll just do a trail field (or two). So watch this space we will either be harvesting very green beans or very green oats. 

I’ve been working with the Future Food Movement to help put a face to farming. They basically start conversations happening between the supply chain and farmers. The idea is that they ask about our harvest and how it went, how much money we took/lost and basically how it’s going on our end. This isn’t a project that’s going to change the food system overnight but I’m hoping by chatting to them face to face we might start making steps to increase food prices and help them understand what is actually happening on the ground. So far I’ve also met some great farmers through this initiative such as Flavian Obiero (@thekenyanpigfarmer). I will keep chatting and keeping an open conversation, hoping for change. 

Volunteer crops have always interested me. The idea that a crop falls out of the back of the combine and grows in the most harshest of environments. It just kind of made sense to me to have a play with them so I am trailing volunteer Oil Seed Rape with 0 inputs because that way if the crop fails at least I haven’t put any money into it. We feel more confident going into this as we are being advised by RegenBen (Ben Taylor Davies). So far I’ve let the volunteers grow and grow they did! We have way too much coverage. Then I hard grazed it with sheep and they munched the crop right down to little stumps. Then the weather gods decided to partly flood the field which was lovely, luckily because we’ve been no till for 4 years or so it wasn’t too bad. And now it’s starting to grow again mainly with little off shoots on the munched down stems. But the most interesting part to me is that the roots are growing directly down however last year with the rape crop that we direct drilled the roots were horizontal and basically on the surface. I had a chat with Tim Parton about this and he said it’s because we put N on straight away last year and the rape roots are lazy so it wouldn’t have been bothered to root down. So much food for thought (pun intended). So currently we are still using no inputs, even though our agronomist is getting nervous, and we plan to just see what happens… hopefully finishing with a harvest. 

We’ve spent the winter putting up fencing around our farm so that we can graze it all with sheep eventually, the fences make it easier to move sheep on and off quickly. We managed one third of the farm this year with outside help. I thoroughly enjoyed the mini trailer we borrowed because I could wizz around on it so easily, it’s the little things. This year we’ve managed to graze our grass (for seed) which has a clover companion crop and the clover really needed munching down. We accidentally had sheep on the rape, some of them were very good escape arists, so we will see how that turns out. But our aim for next year is to put them on wheat and cover crops. I’ve been learning from Ed Horton (@e.a.horton) who has been putting sheep on his crop to reduce disease and has had some really promising outcomes. The final bit of fencing we need to finish this year is getting my sheep into some woodland because I believe ivy does wonders for sheep if they are in a bit of a pickle medically, this is a project I’m extremely excited about.