'Proper farming' sees dairy family crowned Norfolk farm champions
- Credit: Sonya Duncan
A time-honoured commitment to integrate livestock within an arable environment has seen a Norfolk family crowned the county's farming champions.
The Proctor family, based at Shipdham, near Dereham, are the overall winners of the 2022 Norfolk Farm Business Competition, run by the Aylsham Agricultural Show Association.
Their mixed dairy and arable farm claimed the championship title after also winning the Class A category and the award for Best Livestock Enterprise.
The company is named after Robert Paterson, who set up the business after travelling to Norfolk from Scotland in 1929.
And many of his principles are still key to the sustainability of the modern farm, said his son-in-law Ken Proctor, who now runs the business with his wife Rebecca and their sons Ralph and Rob.
Manure from the 1,000-strong dairy herd feeds crops on the arable fields, while cover crops and minimal tillage techniques help reduce the impact of cultivation on the soil's biology and structure, boosting its resilience.
"It is a holistic style of farming - or 'farming properly' as I call it," said Ken.
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"We want to get a balance between 'horn and corn'. If you look back in history at this farm, when Rebecca's father came down from Scotland in 1929, he farmed very much like we farm now, with cover crops, growing crops for a dairy herd, and balancing the whole thing up.
"I still believe in that, and that is how we run this farm."
His son Rob added: "The two sides complement each other.
"We get the organic fertilisers from the dairy unit, and it also means our crop rotation is more open because we can grow a lot of forage crops within the arable rotation.
"Because of the organic matter, the manures coming from the cows, we see stronger crops on the arable side.
"And if you look at the wildlife on our farm compared to a straight arable farm, there is quite a stark difference."
Ralph Proctor described the strategy with the simple phrase: "Keep poop in the loop, and grow roots not shoots."
"The only way to keep our soils functioning is to keep livestock manures and organic matters at high levels," he said. "Cattle are a huge part of that.
"Livestock and arable are all part of one giant cycle, and once you get your soil biology functioning properly, everything works from the ground up.
"There are some amazing arable operators in this part of the world, but we can achieve similar yields to them because our soils are so resilient."
Over the last seven years, the farm's average winter wheat yield has been 10.9 tonnes per hectare, while the winter barley average is over 10t/ha.
Ralph said the 863 hectares farmed by the family includes 143ha of cover crops, while a "double-cropping" strategy allows 874ha of crops to be grown on just 694ha of land.
"Sometimes we are taking multiple harvests in a year off one field," he said. "So we will take a first cut of Italian ryegrass and grow maize after it, with a strip-till system.
"We are doing this with a minimum amount of tillage, so the establishment costs are down, our diesel consumption is down by just over 20pc - but more importantly we are not inverting soil so we are not disturbing the soil biology and structure."
Milk from the farm's 450 milking cows is produced on a premium contract for Morrisons, which requires strict standards for product quality and animal welfare.
And many of the arable crops are also grown on contract, including milling wheat for Warburtons.
"But the biggest customer of the lot, the one you have to farm for, is the farm," said Ken. "You've got to have a system that is right for the farm, and its future."
With that in mind, trials are also under way to look at ways to reduce fungicide and fertilisers on wheat and barley crops, while maintaining profitable margins.
The farm has also embraced new technologies including a "Cow Manager" system which monitors the cattle's activities through their ear tags to predict potential health issues.
And the next major focus is on manure management as part of ongoing efforts to reduce carbon emissions.
- A celebratory farm walk will be held on July 1, starting at Park Farm, Shipdham, IP25 7NH. For more details contact email@example.com.
Entrepreneurial flair wins diversification prize
A business driven by "entrepreneurial flair" to find alternative incomes was among the other winners at the Norfolk Farm Business Competition.
The multi-faceted farm at Dilham Hall, near North Walsham, was named the reserve champion after winning both the Class B category and the diversification prize for its Dilham Hall Retreats venture.
It is run by Luke Paterson, who has implemented a series of new projects since buying his brother Joe out of the business in 2016.
Tourism from canal-side camping, canoe hire and glamping pods now accounts for almost a third of the farm's revenue.
And other diversifications include energy crops, a pig-fattening enterprise and commercial building developments.
Awards judges praised Mr Paterson's "fantastic control in utilising his assets to the maximum".
Mr Paterson said: "It is nice to get recognition from your peers but it has also been a great exercise for team morale. I think that has been the nicest thing.
"They are over the moon. There was very much a buzz around the farmyard and it is wonderful to see the team so animated."
Other prizes included the Leonard Papworth Challenge Trophy for best farm manager - which was won by David Pike of Bradenham Hall Farms.