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Soil Farmer of the Year announced

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The winner of the 2024 Soil Farmer of the Year competition was announced at Groundswell last week, where all finalists explained how soil management has been prioritised in their businesses and the results they have achieved thus far.

Tracy Russell and David Newman (pictured on the right) from Bucksum at Shabbington Fields Farm in Buckinghamshire received the top award, with Ed Horton (next to Tracy) from SS Horton & Sons in Gloucestershire in second place and Ben Richards (alongside Ed) from Middle Trelan Farm Ltd in Cornwall placed third.

Bucksum is predominantly a market garden business, which uses a four-year rotation, taking a cash crop once every four years while building soil health and fertility by using herbal leys grazed by sheep for the other three years in the rotation.

The competition, which was launched in 2015, has helped identify the best farmers in the UK who are passionate about safeguarding their soils and building resilient businesses. It is jointly run by Farm Carbon Toolkit and Innovation for Agriculture, and was judged by representatives from these two companies, as well as sponsors Cotswold Seeds and Hutchinsons, plus previous Soil Farmer of the Year winners. Following the awards ceremony, all three finalist farms will be hosting farm walks to demonstrate their practices and approaches.

Deborah Crossan, head of soils and natural resources at Innovation for Agriculture, one of the competition judges, shared how impressed she was by the diversity of approaches taken to improve soil health at Bucksum:

“During the judging visit Tracy and David shared how they are using chickens to clear the ground under the agroforestry fruit tree lines and how the agroforestry, together with the introduction of sheep grazing in the fields, has brought more natural predators to the farm.” 

“They are also making their own soil improver using their own green waste, composted wood chippings from a local tree surgeon and spent hops from a nearby brewery,” added Deborah.

Becky Willson, business development and technical director at Farm Carbon Toolkit, another judge of the competition, said:

“There are real opportunities to take some of the brilliant ideas that David and Tracy are using on their farm and apply them to other farming enterprises,”

“The prioritisation of soil health through a diverse range of practices was inspirational and a testament to what can be achieved.”

Groundswell is a two-day regenerative agriculture festival, created by the Cherry farming family at Weston Park Farms in Weston, Hertfordshire. It provides a forum for farmers, and anyone interested in food production or the environment to learn about the theory and practical applications of Conservation Agriculture or regenerative systems, including no-till, cover crops and re-introducing livestock into the arable rotation, with a view to improving soil health. 

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