Taking part in the Sustainable Landscapes Wolds Programme has been a great opportunity for Liz Sellers and Jeremy Harrison of Harrison Farms, who credit it with environmental, economic, and social benefits to their business.
Harrison Farms’ involvement in the Sustainable Wolds Programme came about by chance, but has seen Liz and Jeremy step up as lead farmers on the project, which is a five-year collaboration between Yorkshire Water and 17 farm businesses around Kilham in East Yorkshire.
Liz is very interested in sustainable agriculture and was researching carbon sequestration when she was encouraged to speak to Future Food Solutions. The farm is in the catchment of the river Hull, is vulnerable to flooding, and in an NVZ. Future Food Solutions saw that the area was right for a trial, and that it could follow on from previous work on water quality.
Liz believes that sustainability has always been at the core of farming, but it is a concept that it has been slow to showcase.
“Farmers are naturally connected to the land which is an advantage over other industries,” she adds
“The impacts of climate change have an immediate effect on us. It’s an obvious choice for farmers to shape the direction of climate change mitigation.”
The project consists of the farmers growing at least 10ha of cover crops each year. It aims to sequester carbon, increase soil organic matter, and improve the soil’s ability to hold water. This results in a reduction of nutrient leaching, particularly of nitrogen, which protects water quality and reduces the need for Yorkshire Water to invest in treatment. Keeping nitrogen in the soil also has benefits for the farmers, who will see this costly input taken up by their crops rather than wasted.
“With the price and availability of nitrogen as it is we’ve got to get more efficient,” says Liz
“We have to use it- but in a way that is mutually beneficial and sustainable. We were already interested in cover crops but their seed is expensive, so the trial was a perfect opportunity.”
“The nitrates are coming down in the water which is making Yorkshire Water happy as they can spend less on treatments, and the cover crops are having a positive effect on our business through better root and soil structure, biodiversity, and adding nitrogen when they are desiccated.”
The collaborative nature of the programme has been key to its success, and Liz doesn’t think the outcomes would have been achieved if it had been mandated by legislation. With everyone having access to the data it has been a safe space for farmers to share information without revealing their trade secrets. Alongside the environmental and economic benefits of the programme, Liz thinks the group nature has also brought a less tangible social benefit.
“Farming can be a lonely existence- you’re making decisions on your own and there can be a lot of pressure in the industry.”
“The farms on the project all have similar blocks of land and we’re in the same river catchment. Suddenly you realise that your issues, your problems, and your challenges are your neighbours’ issues, problems, and challenges too.”
Harrison Farms grow a rotation of oilseed rape, winter wheat, winter barley, and vining peas. Malting barley is sold to a branded beer company, and the peas are processed through the co-operatively owned Yorkshire Greens.
Being part of the programme has been an opportunity for Liz to bridge the gap between consumers and producers, and for farmers to involve brands with climate change mitigation rather than being in a position where brands dictate policy without farmer input.
“We need to work together as a chain.”
“We have to move and change and evaluate how we do things now and how we can do things better in the future. Part of that has to be working together, and looking at other businesses, industries, and countries.”
Liz’s Learnings from the Sustainable Landscapes Wolds Programme
- Be open to opportunities and don’t see change as a threat
- Take the initiative as farmers to shape our own futures as individual farms and landscapes
- Have a collaborative mindset; the environment is bigger than your farm, and even if you are doing an excellent job, the wider impact will be small if your neighbours don’t do something too
- It pays to have someone in the business who is actively looking for these opportunities and is open to trying new things
- Some things are easier as a group
- Think about ways to promote the good work that is already happening
- Be willing to change and to improve and to work with external stakeholders so that everybody can benefit
- Cover crops take little effort to add to the rotation and have very fast results