We’re harvesting beetroot, Calabrese, and leeks at the moment on our mixed farm (combining animals with crops). We farm about 220 acres in total, on medium loam soil; the steep slopes are permanent pasture for livestock, and we grow veg in the flatter fields.
All the fields have six-metre margins where we don’t plough. They are havens of wildlife; we’ve got skylarks, barn owls, and bats, among others. The landscape is stunning – when you get five minutes to stop and look around, that’s the one of the best things. We also have a small suckler herd (cows with calves), and their manure is massively valuable for fertilising our veg fields.
We’re tenants of the National Trust, under an agreement called a Farm Business Tenancy (FBT), which we've held for five and then 15 years and is currently being renewed. These are often only set up for a couple of years, which do not provide a legal framework to encourage organic conversion. It’s common practice when these agreements come to an end that the land agent or estate manager serves notice to quit. This happens even if the landowner - who often doesn’t have contact with the tenants - would like to invite them to continue and build upon the previous years’ work and all the healthy established relationships.
The process to renew is then really long; it can take literally years and is counter productive for many reasons. There’s definitely a tenant farm culture that needs to change after decades of inadequate legal framework and mismanagement.
Meanwhile, Andy is out in all elements every day. The early Calabrese struggled in the spring, but overall everything is looking okay – we particularly like growing leeks because they cope well in most weathers.
We harvest the beetroot by hand now, though we’ve done it mechanically in the past. Although it may be more expensive like this, we can pick as and when we need it, so we don’t need to spend on storage – and also we don’t have to make sure there’s no stones in the beds, because we’re not using the tractor.
We’ve had nine people every day in the past few weeks, picking Calabrese in the morning and beetroot in the afternoon. These ‘human harvesters’ need to be really valued and seen as doing a vital job. Almost every week something is being harvested or planted. Vegetables are a bit like children; when they’re ready to be harvested, they can’t wait. They’re more demanding than the cattle, who generally just get on with it.