We are very lucky to be based on our fifth generation family-run, 200-acre farm located on the outskirts of St Agnes, Cornwall. The farm practises regenerative farming and includes Pedigree South Devon Cattle, Pedigree Tamworth Pigs, brassicas, low input grassland, cover crops including phacelia, and in 2022 a sunflower field. We've incorporated the tree production into the farm’s overall five-year crop rotation; which focuses on soil health, carbon sequestering and biodiversity.
Presingoll Farm had been a mixed lowland farm for hundreds of years, operating a low input, low investment, livestock-based system, however over the last 20 years the family has worked hard to create a more modern, regenerative approach to farming. We concentrated on a grass-based, low input and welfare-led livestock system across our 200-acre home farm until 2018. We had been Soil Association approved organic for a number of years, with Red Tractor assurance in place, but couldn’t see a long term future with a cattle-focused system. We made the very difficult decision to sell most of our pedigree herd of South Devon cattle, and move towards a plant-based regime.
Our soils are based on Cornish Killas rock, which creates a brown earth soil which is generally well drained and of moderate grade 3 fertility. In the main our soils are shallow and stony. Without positive soil management, the inherent organic matter content would be relatively low. Average UK soil organic matter (SOM) varies between 1-7% but 3% seems to be an accepted benchmark. We have increased our SOM to such an extent that the lowest field is now 3.7 and the highest over 13% SOM.
Farming For The Future
Based on this brief outline our 'pledge for nature' can be explained in three key themes.
The change in our farming practices
The restoration of existing lowland habitats
The creation of new habitats
The farm is now actively managed to encourage carbon sequestration and reduce carbon release, to enhance the landscape’s biodiversity and long-term soil health. Since 2018 we have adjusted a number of farming practices, such as stopping ploughing, and moved to a minimum to no-till soil management approach. This has enabled us to improve soil structure allowing us to maintain planting regimes through the summer months, as the soil, with its stronger structure and higher organic material content, has retained more moisture and nutrients.
We have established a rotation providing 100% winter and spring ground cover, using phacelia and clover. Not only does this reduce run-off, preventing soil erosion, but has benefits for pollinators, and in subsequent use as green manure, increasing SOM when incorporated. If we can increase our soil carbon by 1% we should sequester at least 5 tons/acre of additional carbon. Whilst we need to do more research and collect more data, our current regenerative practices should see our carbon baseline improve by at least 5% over the next 10 years, and thus 25 tons of carbon sequestered/acre.
Although the farm is no longer officially organic we are maintaining most of the principles. We have a zero-insecticide policy and minimise herbicide usage. With new equipment secured with some recent grants, we’re able to move to a targeted, mechanical camera controlled weeding strategy on our tree production, for example. In addition with inter row sprayers, we can target specific invasive weeds, and apply foliar feeds to those plants that need it rather than wasteful blanket applications. With improved soil quality, and by encouraging beneficial insects, we are able to avoid spraying insecticides against aphids on our Beech crop - our army of ladybirds devour the aphids naturally, which is an example of our investment in ecosystem services.
As part of the farm’s more recent diversifications we are now growing over 1 million trees for bareroot production for the forestry and landscape markets.
Our commitment to nature recovery began with the restoration of our existing landscape assets and habitats. Initially by adjusting the maintenance regime, reducing cutting frequency to at least a 3-year cycle. This transforms hedgerows, allowing for natural growth, diversification and maturity, and encourages increased biodiversity and more nesting birds. We have been employing this approach for three consecutive Stewardship programmes, and now into the fourth cycle we have increased the average width of our hedgerows to at least 5m. We no longer trim the top of our hedges at all, which has seen the growth of individual hedgerow trees and larger shrubs.
For the future we are pledging to widen every metre of our 20,000m of hedgerows still further. In addition to planting field corners with trees, we are revising the overall masterplan of the farm to plant new woodland areas, and joining small coppices with wider natural corridors where appropriate. As a trial we are introducing a 6 acre agroforestry scheme, which on the exposed north coast is very experimental.
We are aiming to work with the national wildflower project to establish a wildflower seed orchard and enhance some of our field margins with wildflowers.
As part of this overall commitment we are increasing public access to the farm, working with the Saints Way Trail, promoting farm open days, enhancing the footpaths, as well as in 2020 opening our ‘Paws at Presingoll Farm’ dog exercise field.