Visit by the Sub-Committee on 15 April
Duchy Home Farm, Highgrove, and Eastbrook Farm, Bishopstone
In the morning the Sub-Committee visited the Duchy
Home Farm at Highgrove. Mr David Wilson, the Farm Manager, gave
a presentation on the farm and its conversion to organic status,
and then gave a tour of various parts of the farm. In the course
of the presentation and subsequent discussions the following points
(i) The farm covers a total of 1080 acres, situated
around the town of Tetbury. 3 other sites are also share-farmed,
covering a total of c. 600 acres. Mr Wilson began work at the
farm in 1985. In 1986 they experimented with organic methods on
a small parcel of land. At first a major barrier to converting
to organic methods was psychological: they did not fully believe
that they could produce successfully without the aid of inputs
from the large chemical companies. Most of the farm was converted
by 1992, and it was entirely organic by 1995. Most of the land
therefore missed out on the Organic Aid Scheme.
(ii) There are a variety of soils and pH's around
the farm. There are 130 Ayrshire dairy cows, which are well suited
to organic production, 99 Aberdeen Angus single sucklers and 500
breeding ewes. There is now an organic pig unit, which is operated
on their land by a contractor. They have recently begun a small
organic vegetable enterprise, which has been particularly useful
as it has put the farm in direct contact with the marketplace.
It was Mr Wilson's impression that organic farmers generally have
closer contacts with their markets, which helps them to determine
their priorities on the farming side.
(iii) Mr Wilson spoke about the Organic Milk
Suppliers Co-operative, which began in 1994. 5 different farms,
including Duchy Home Farm, have now contracted to supply 2.5 million
litres of organic milk to a major yoghurt maker at 29.5 pence
per litre. Beef and lamb is being sold to a number of butchers,
and increasingly to the Organic Livestock Marketing Company. Organic
farmers have increasingly been able to detach organic prices from
conventional prices, so that the organic price is not "conventional
price + x" but a figure that takes into account the production
costs of the organic system.
(iv) They operate a 7-year rotation, typically:
|Years 1 to 3||Grass and red or white clover. This is used for grazing and silage.
|Year 4:||Winter wheat.
|Year 5:||Spring oats.
|Year 6:||Spring beans.
(Set-aside is fitted in. Mustard is a good set-aside crop as it
smothers other plants, brings up nutrients and can then be chopped
up and ploughed back into the field).
(v) The farm also maintains some rare breeds and crop types
in order to keep alive their genes, for example a few Gloucester
cattle, some large black sows and rare wheats.
(vi) The crop varieties and animal breeds which have been
developed for conventional agriculture are not necessarily well
suited for organic agriculture. Conventional wheat has been bred
short to help nitrogen take-up and ensure that it does not get
flattened, but Mr Wilson prefers wheat which grows high and can
out-compete weeds. He has not yet seen it go flat.
(vii) Mr Wilson said that in conventional agriculture the
use of nitrogen fertilisers increases water take-up, reduces the
width of the cell wall (leading to more disease problems), and
increases the plant's sugar content (making it more attractive
(viii) One reason to keep organically farmed fields fairly
small (c. 20 acres) is that the hedges contain a nucleus of predators.
If there is a pest problem in a particular field, the predators
will expand their numbers to deal with them.
(ix) Manure is composted and then spread on the grass and
In the afternoon the Sub-Committee visited Eastbrook Farm, Bishopstone,
which is farmed by Mrs Helen Browning. The Sub-Committee saw various
parts of the farm, and in the course of discussions the following
points were made:
(i) The farm covers 1300 acres, and is a mixed arable, dairy
and meat (beef, pigs and sheep) farm. The land is owned by the
Church of England. Conversion began in 1986, and the last block
of land went into conversion in 1995.
(ii) There are two pedigree Friesian-Holstein dairy herds.
The milk is sold through the Organic Milk Suppliers Co-operative.
The pig unit has expanded rapidly in the last few years, using
a cross between the Duroc and the British Saddleback. The sheep
breeds are North Country Mules and Hebridean ewes. They prefer
to use traditional breeds of livestock which are often hardier
than modern breeds, but modern varieties of crops such as wheat
(iii) As the Duchy Home Farm, Eastbrook uses red clover leys
in its rotations for restoring soil fertility.
(iv) There is also an Eastbrook Farms Organic Meat Company,
which purchases meat from the farm and other accredited suppliers.
There is a shop in the nearby village of Shrivenham, and meat
is also sold to supermarkets and direct to people's homes by direct
(v) The farm produces veal in an "animal-friendly"
way. The farm literature explains that "male issue from the
dairy herd leave their mothers at three or four days old and are
put with nurse cows who are retired from the main milking herd.
They stay with their nurse mothers for the next six months, overwintering
in our new calf house or grazing in the fields during the summer