End of Year Director’s Message from Dawn Wilson: The Journey to Sustainable Farming

The forthcoming year on the farm for the 2024 harvest is looking to be another tricky one following on the back of a poor 2023 harvest year, hot on the heals of a record-breaking harvest in 2022, due to exceptionally high commodity prices caused by the war in Ukraine. The current volatility of commodity prices and higher costs together with more extreme weather conditions of wet and dry periods is making arable farming very difficult to budget for with any certainty. The basic payment we get annually from the government as a subsidy to allow us to break even in bad years, is reducing substantially each year aiming towards zero payment by 2028. 

Sustainable farming initiatives

To some extent we are compensating for this loss of income through the countryside Steward ship scheme payments and now the Sustainable Farming incentive another recently introduced environmental scheme by the government as part of their policy of public funds for public good both of which we have signed up for. This requires a lot more input on behalf of the farmer encouraging a change in the way we farm to be more sustainably friendly and to encourage us to use natural capital assets such as soil to improve the organic matter in it by farming in a regenerative way in order to sequester greater quantities of carbon, also to look at planting more woodlands to soak up carbon & create environmental habitats in areas on the farm to counteract natural habitat areas destroyed by property developers. All this will help towards our national journey to meet net zero by 2050 and these are topics we are actively looking into.

Natural Capital

I fully support this policy, but the transitional period is difficult for us to keep the business profitable, as before we can benefit from the additional income streams like selling carbon credits or benefitting from biodiversity net gain deals for part of our land, there are sizeable setting up costs for these projects when our overall income from combinable crops is reducing. It is all potentially very exciting these new income streams but it is all new & pioneering for landowners to go into with no certainty at these early stages that the income levels being quoted to us in the industry will be achievable, so the down side to these new markets need to be properly considered alongside the tempting high returns! We also need to ensure that we get our farming business to net zero in addition to selling the carbon credits, so lots to think about & further research.

We will be installing 15 leaky barriers this winter in our ditch/small stream that runs down through our farm at Pickwell to slow down the flow of water during torrential rain periods so acting as a flood mitigation project for the village of Whissendine downstream. This is being done in partnership with The Trent Rivers Trust. The wood for these barriers will be supplied off the farm from thinning’s of Ash taken from one of our woods.

We will also be planting over a km of new hedges on the farm & planting 55 hedgerow trees during the next 12 months.

The future of farming

So, the future on the farm is undergoing a big change with more emphasis on farming in a more environmentally friendly way, reducing our input costs which makes economic sense as well as better for our climate.  We are restructuring our two farms, which make up the wider estate, to accommodate the new emphasis on producing income from natural capital & trying at the same time to introduce a bit more certainty to our cash flow with letting out one of the farms. So, it is a BIG year for this side of the business which I am approaching with a mixture of trepidation & excitement!

Dawn Wilson


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