Raby

Regenerative Farming

With an ever-changing market and the political and legislative situations we are operating in, the team across the Raby operational and contract farmland are adapting our farming approach to improve the flexibility of our operation.

We are extremely pleased to welcome Philip Vickers as our directly employed Farm Manager for the Durham in-hand farm. Philip brings with him a wealth of knowledge regarding the regenerative and circular farming approach. The skills of Robert Sullivan, our former Farm Consultant are still being put to good use and he is a very valuable support to the team.

The key objective to our farming approach is to reduce our reliance on external factors, reduce the risks around the business and make the farming business more robust to hopefully smooth external factors outside our control. While doing this we must ensure the farms remain profitable, provide wholesome top quality food products and that we farm in a manner which doesn’t adversely affect our environment but improves it.

Philip Vickers, Farm Manager

There is no set definition of regenerative agriculture but stripped back, it is any form of farming – that is, the production of food or fibre – which at the same time improves the environment. Regenerative farmers typically try to disturb the soil as little as possible: forgoing tilling, which disturbs the complex network of worm-holes, fungal hyphae and a labyrinth of microscopic air pockets, and avoiding heavy doses of fertiliser or sprays.

Most advocates grow a diverse range of crops, often at the same time, and believe that grazing animals are essential for improving soil health. To help smooth the transition, the use of Mid-Tier countryside stewardship scheme options such as AB15 and AB9 have been utilised on less profitable areas of the farm. The benefits of these cover crops are already being seen in the soil health. Around 11% of the farm now has environmental crops growing on it. Cover crops are playing a key part in the process in addition to the investment in different seed drills. Over 3000 metres of hedgerow gaps have been filled and an application to become a sustainable pilot farm has been submitted.

Through our journey so far, the key messages have been to adopt an approach which best suits the farm and fields, there is no ‘one size fits all’ to this methodology. Detailed knowledge is paramount to decision making and measuring crop profitability as a priority to yield is key. One of our most important lessons has been adaptability which is paramount;
a lot of what is trialled will not work and often best laid plans need changing at the last minute.

Finally, knowledge sharing is very important to us all. We welcome input from those interested in this change and if anyone would like to seek further information or share ideas, we would be interested to hear from you.

Shropshire

Shropshire

Producing food is very important to the Raby Estate. Raby produces wheat for feeding animals, oil seed rape for producing rape seed oil for fuel and food, potatoes, beans and sheep are grazed on the grasslands. Heal Farms are our great contractors and together we farm to high standards implementing new technologies and balancing good quality profitable food production with caring for the environment.

Durham

Durham

In County Durham we farm from our base at Raby Home Farm just to the west of Raby Castle. From here we manage all of the farmland within Raby Park and various other blocks of land to the east of Raby Castle with the most easterly block being located in the edge of the village of Piercebridge.

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The main stay of the farming business is arable crop production of winter wheat, winter barley, and winter oilseed rape being grown. The wheat is sold either to local feed mills or to the bioethanol plant on Teesside (when in operation). The barley is also sold to local feed mills whilst the oil seed rape is crushed to extract a high-quality oil which has many end uses including being sold as vegetable oils.

Longhorn cattle have been at Raby Estate since the earliest 1970’s where a small pedigree herd was established By Peter Boylett (the farm manager at the time) and grew over the years to its current size. The herd can be seen grazing around Raby Castle during the summer months along with the red and fallow deer.

The herd is run commercially with the cows calving in the spring before being turned out to grass between April and May. The calves are retained until they are around 2½ to 3 years of age where they are sold either for breeding or for meat production. The aim is to produce our own meat which will be used by the catering outlets elsewhere on the Estate when it is available.

The current stock bull is known as Raby Kaiserchief who was born on the Estate before being sold along with his mother to a fellow longhorn breeder. He returned to the Estate in Spring 2017 and any of the younger calves you see in the park are likely to be his.

A recent new venture for the faming business has been to establish a Share Faming Agreement with a tenant of the Estate on the grassland area within the Park Walls. The aim of this agreement is to bring in the expertise and experience of the livestock farmer (which we don’t have) whilst at the same time allowing us to actively manage the land for the benefit of the environment and wider Estate.

This agreement is relatively  conventional but enables both parties to share the risk and the reward from farming the livestock within the agreement.

The intention is that a proportion of the lamb produced through this agreement will also be sold through the catering outlets elsewhere on the Estate.

Raby Estate takes an active role in managing the land for the benefit of the environment. Raby Farms has just entered into a Mid-Tier Countryside Stewardship Scheme, working alongside Natural England to provide habitats that benefit all types of wildlife within the area from insects to wading birds, hedges, to wildflower meadows.

Significant time and cost will be put into establishing these new habitats across the farmed area which will lead to enhanced environmental benefits to the area over time.

Historically the in-hand farming operation has established crops using s plough-based system. This is both slow, expensive, and detrimental to soil health overtime.

In recent years, the farm has moved over to a none inversion system, which is quicker, cheaper, and marginally less damaging to soil health. The most recent development is the establishment of a no-till trial on one of the farms near Piercebridge, where the crop has been established by drilling into the previous stubble and hardly moving any soil at all. Should this trial prove successful it is possible that this technique will be rolled out over a larger area of the farming operation.

Raby Farms have a range of modern farming equipment and, where appropriate to do so, use the latest technology to help in managing the crops as efficiently as possible. The most recent introduction is a new fertiliser spreader which allows fertiliser to be applied at varying rates depending on the needs of the crops within an individual field.

The farm business employs 3 fulltime staff along with additional help being taking on during harvest. All 3 staff have been employed by Raby for many years and have a wealth of experience and knowledge of the land and environment in which they work. Their hard work, dedication, and attention to detail, is one of the main reasons the farm business is the success it is today.

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