Thursday, 14 March 2019
Being a Monitor Farmer has inspired Norfolk grower Simon Brock to focus on the future and better understand his business.
The Dereham Monitor Farm host told visitors at his final meeting this month that three years of hosting AHDB’s flagship programme has led him to take a closer look at what he’s doing.
From learning to love cover crops, to reviewing his machinery costs and hearing how to enhance soil health and biology, Simon’s tenure has seen him embark on a journey that enabled him to develop both personally and professionally.
Hosting at Swanton Morely Farms, Simon collaborated with local growers, agronomists and industry experts in order to scrutinise his business, with a view to learning how to develop and improve his farm.
There were some unexpected twists and turns. At one point Simon took to burying a selection of his underpants in his fields to assess soil microbial activity; the more decomposed the undergarment, the more active the bacteria.
Simon also admits to being ‘slightly less terrified’ of public speaking, having spent the last three years addressing fellow growers at regular Monitor Farm meetings: discussing best practice and wrestling over issues facing farms in the local area.
Assessing the impact of the programme on his business, Simon explained that this would be a continual process: having initially looked at changing rotation and then introducing cover crops, he is keen to use the knowledge he’s gained on soil cultivation strategies to drive down farm costs.
“For me personally, looking at soil cultivation strategies has been particularly valuable,” he said. “Having initially been sceptical of cover crops, the Monitor Farm meetings have been really useful to discuss their value with other growers. I’ve learnt a lot about the importance of soil health and how to retain nutrients, while also looking at more efficient ways of applying nitrogen and fungicides.”
Reflecting on the programmes’ success in bringing growers together, Simon found the feedback he received from his peers very beneficial. He spoke enthusiastically of submitting an entry for a project connecting growers interested in driving yield.
During the final meeting of the Dereham Monitor Farm a group evaluation of the three-year programme at Swanton Morley Farms identified its strengths and weaknesses, along with future opportunities and threats.
Simon finished the meeting by highlighting aspects of the programme he found useful, with benchmarking a particular stand out. The programme involved a review of his overall labour and machinery expenditure, as well as calculating an accurate cost of producing a hectare of wheat.
Signing off for the final time, he told the audience that ‘it’s been great fun, I’ve really enjoyed it’ but that there was ‘still loads to learn’.
Arable Farmer Mark Means who sat on the steering group for Dereham Monitor Farm said: “The meetings provided a great opportunity and got everyone thinking. We really need more of this kind of thing.”
Also on the steering group was Adrian Howes who said: “The programme has enabled me to see how other farmers do things and provided a bit of reassurance for what I do on my own farm.”
Presenting Simon with an award for all his hard work, Knowledge Exchange Manager Teresa Meadows said: “Simon’s been an absolute star. He’s been great to work with and enthusiastically embraced every challenge we threw at him.
“It’s great to hear that he and the group from across Norfolk found the programme so beneficial. There are plenty of challenges facing growers in the coming months and years and Monitor Farms can provide support and increase business resilience.”
With the end of Dereham Monitor Farm, a new Monitor Farmer will be announced in the next few months to begin in the autumn of this year.