Written by Emma Adams on behalf of The Farm Carbon Toolkit
At Farm Carbon Toolkit we are delighted to announce the dates for the farm walks hosted by our fantastic Soil Farmer of the Year 2023 winners. The competition this year was stronger than ever and captured the diversity of UK agriculture with the standard of applicants ever increasing. Each farm walk promises to showcase the great practices that are happening on farms which are a testament to the ideals set by the competition.
The Soil Farmer of the Year competition has been running since 2015, providing a platform for individuals and businesses to demonstrate how soil management can build environmental and economic resilience.The competition aims to recognise, promote and champion farmers who are passionate about safeguarding their soils and demonstrates how despite the vast variation across the agricultural sector, sustainable management can be universal.
This year’s competition was conducted in association with Innovation for Agriculture and kindly sponsored once more by Hutchinsons and Cotswold Seeds. Our task was to find farmers and growers who are engaged with, and passionate about managing their soils in a way that supports productive agriculture, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and builds soil health, organic matter and carbon. Each year, the judging process includes a written application, an online interview with the judging panel and an in-person farm walk whereby applicants demonstrate their farming system and how soil management is central to their process.
The results of the competition were announced at Groundswell: The Regenerative Agricultural Show and Conference in a panel session with the winning farmers to discuss their approach to soil health and regenerative management strategies.
The full list of winners, finalists and highly commended farms can be found below:
1st Place: Stuart Johnson, West Wharmley Farm, Hexham
2nd Place: Richard Anthony, R&L Anthony Ltd, Bridgend
3rd Place: Bronagh O’Kane, Drumard Farm, Cookstown
Debbie Wilkins, Norton Court Farm, Gloucestershire
Andrew Jackson, Holme Hall Farm, Lincolnshire
Ed Horton, Poulton Fields Farm, Gloucestershire
Jonathan Hodgson, Great Newsome Farm, East Yorkshire
Jonathan Sansome, Woodfield Farm, Worcestershire
Will Oliver, Swepstone Fields Farm, Leicestershire
Robert Neave, The Manor, Lincolnshire
The 2023 Soil Farmers of the Year (from left to right): Bronagh O’Kane – 3rd Place, Stuart Johnson – 1st Place and Richard Anthony – 2nd Place.
The top three farmers are invited to hold farm walks which are open to the wider farming community to practically demonstrate and discuss how their approaches have focused on soil health and land management. Booking for these walks is essential, with a link found on the Farm Carbon Toolkit website on the Events page or via searching Eventbrite for ‘Soil Farmer of the Year’.
4th October 2023 – Stuart Johnson, Hexham
11th October 2023 – Bronagh O’Kane, Cookstown
23rd November 2023 – Richard Antony, Bridgend
Soil Farmer of the Year – Stuart Johnson
Stuart has been transforming his farm over the last 10 years to reduce inputs, improve soil health and livestock productivity. Moving to a strip-tillage system and mob grazing platform has provided financial success alongside a more resilient business. Stuart has now eliminated fertiliser on his grassland and fungicides in the arable crops, instead utilising an integrated system with the livestock and compost teas to grow what is needed on the farm. The farm is currently in a seven year rotation of a five year legume/herb mix followed by a two-year arable break with full grass grazing for the sheep and cattle meaning that there is no need to buy in additional supplementary feed over the summer months.
Second Place – Richard Anthony
Soil management is central to operations at R&L Anthony Ltd. Based near Bridgend in South Wales, the arable farming operation has grown to encompass a vast variety of soil types and conditions, with the associated challenges of staying profitable whilst minimising environmental impact. The rotation encompasses combinable crops alongside forage production, utilising cover crops and integrated management to maximise soil health and carbon capture. Richard hosts a vast selection of trials at the farm, including different varieties of cover crops and the national trial list for combinable cropping; cover and companion crops are central to the arable operation, used to improve drainage, scavenge nutrients and reduce fuel usage through improving soil structure. Through continuously refining the management system Richard has halved fungicide use, eliminated insecticides and hugely reduced the fertiliser requirement through managing the soil to keep the biology working.
Third Place – Bronagh O’Kane
Having come back to the farm in 2020, Bronagh has begun a journey to transform the soil. Historically the farm has supported continental cattle breeds with a high reliance on imported feed, Bronagh has transitioned to more traditional breeds managed on grasslands. Utilising a small pasture grazing system she has increased the grazing period by 4 weeks and soils are more resilient to the extremes of dry and wet weather. Bronagh has started producing her own vermicast and composting to improve soil biology, focusing on natural inputs and a softer approach with foliar fertilisers where needed to manage historically compact and imbalanced soils. The walk will provide the opportunity to discuss and demonstrate the practices undertaken at the farm and the ongoing challenges and successes that Bronagh sees in her system.
For more information, visit farmcarbontoolkit.org.uk/soil-farmer-of-the-year