Standing in one of his fields 'on shoot' for an Agrimetrics film (pictured above), Guy Brickell describes how data on productivity, soil and water will be increasingly important to him.
His 500-acre mixed farm positioned on the rolling countryside of the Kent Weald requires an environmental and sustainable approach to farm management: "We have a lot of small fields, springs and surface water. So we have to ensure that when we apply pesticides we do so without contaminating these waters," he says.
Regular soil analyses and testing is important to aid his management decisions. Guy wants data that is up to date and accurate so that he can get 'highest returns with least environmental damage, particularly water run-off'.
His farm management decisions on cropping rotations, weed and disease control and cultivations are driven by a respect for the land and balance of nature. The rotation includes 2-3 years in short-term grass leys integrated with red clover to improve soil structure and provide a natural source of fertility for the following crop. Wheat, oats and spring barley follow before returning to grass.
"We do plough – but not all the time. When we do, however, we consolidate and drill quickly after to reduce soil damage and encourage crop growth," he says.
So many of Guy's decisions are founded on the organic principles that he applied for 10 years before being advised to move back to a conventional system when the market for organic farming started to decline.
Although not organically registered, his farming system of beef, dairy, outdoor pigs and cropping is carefully balanced to match the natural environment and the opportunities that being so close to the affluent Tunbridge Wells region affords. Milk from his small dairy goes to a local cheese-maker with whey coming back to feed the pigs. Bottled milk is on his radar. "I believe that some consumers are willing to pay for 'local food that they can see is produced in a way that protects and nurtures the countryside'.
His 50-head dairy herd are Freisan and Jersey crosses: "The quality of the Jersey milk is good for cheese and the cows are lighter on their feet, so we get the maximum milk from grass and keep costs of production down," says Guy.
He takes the same approach to his selection of traditional beef and pigs breeds. Sussex cows suit the landscape well and this approach to making the natural environmental a central philosophy of farm management is going to become more important than ever, he says. Government funding will be focussed on public benefits and the use of data to assess the natural capital 'value to conservation and consumers' will become increasingly important.
He believes farmers are more willing to share data when it offers them some real insights in to bringing the needs of farming, environment and consumer together.