Pollybell Organic Farm Walk - 30th June 2011

15 July 2011

On a sunny summer afternoon over 30 farmers and growers met for an afternoon farm walk at Pollybell Organic Farm, an event kindly sponsored by Norton Organic Grain Ltd.

Pollybell Organic is a multi-award winning farm on the Yorkshire/Nottinghamshire/Lincolnshire border. Peter Cornish (managing director), James Brown (finance director), Rob Corlett (growing and technical manager), and the Pollybell Organic team manage approximately 1,400ha and are one of the UK’s largest producers of organic vegetables. But the farm’s wide rotation also produces significant quantities of cereals, along with grazing for sheep during the fertility building phases.
The rotation is determined by the field and soil type and market conditions; however, in simple terms it is based on a six-year rotation with two years of grass/red clover leys, followed by brassicas, cereals, legumes and other vegetables, including roots and alliums.
After a welcoming cup of tea and introductions, the group split into two and headed out for the walk, all togged up in our health and safety jackets and Pollybell caps. The walk comprised of several stop off areas:
Cold store
Pollybell have invested in water misting within their cold store. Producers commented that it was the equivalent of a cool November’s morning when walking into the chilly building. Rob Corlett explained that the cold mist ensures optimal quality of produce and prevents the plant drying out under cold air. This allows them to store produce for longer, which helps flexibility of their operations.
It was clear that Pollybell have made significant investment into machinery to optimise their production and enables the team to physically farm the large area of the holding. Three particular pieces of this machinery seen on the walk:
The Pearson auto module planter, made by Richard Pearson, is an impressive piece of kit, with robotic arms which pick up the module from the tray and places this into the planter. Working at 2-5mph in four row beds, it requires only two people to operate; one driving the tractor and the other replacing the module tray as the planting arms finish each tray.
The Robocrop In-Row weeder is another device designed to save labour and increase output. Used in all cropping including cereals, it works around the plant to clean away weeds.  To watch a video of it working on another farm with very different soils, please see the Youtube video below: 
Harvesting is carried out with a fleet of tractor mounted packers, including two Keith Collingwood (http://www.keithcollingwood.co.uk/) Mini Veg Packers. This movable packing line is capable of collecting a variety of crops which are harvested by hand, placed in the bowls on the front of the tractor, and then deposited into the packing trailer which follows the tractor.
Delegates were treated to an extremely clean crop of Alchemy winter wheat on the walk – please see photos! This is drilled at a wider width of approximately 9” rows, which enables the use of in-row hoes when establishing the crop. The group where very impressed at the crop density and estimates of 3-3.5/t/acre (7.4–8.6t/ha) where given by some experienced farmers. Rob Corlett was obviously pleased with the crop and Norton Organic’s Simon Tubbs and Nigel Gossett would no doubt be keen to find a home for this crop after harvest!
Beans where next on the stop and these have been grown like wheat as a break crop in the rotation. Rob Corlett explained that they’ve had a varying degree of success with beans over the years, and they may decide to drop them in turn for another legume in the future.  However, the crop of spring sown Fuego beans looked well and, provided it stays clean between now and harvest, the crop should give a positive margin on the farm accounts.
A variety of vegetables were seen at differing life stages on the walk; from new transplants to crops ready for harvesting. The groups saw healthy crops of leeks, beetroot, onions, celeriac and cabbage. We were very fortunate, too, that Pollybell offered a find selection of their produce for us to take away and try.
Please see photos attached of the crops seen and equipment used:
Highlights on this part of the walk included:
- Appreciating the scale of operations that were undertaken, with blocks of 20ha down to field scale vegetables! 
- Seeing the results of using the in-row hoe within a crop of establishing cabbages, along with cleanly established crops of onions and leeks planted with the autoplanter.  
- Seeing a freshly hand-weeded crop of beetroots destined for French schools meals, as well as UK markets.
- Appreciating the labour required to weed this area and the hard work required by all to get the crops to market.
- Reviewing the establishment of celeriac that where transplanted with the Pearson autoplanter – pioneering work for this mechanisation to plant this crop.
For more information on the cropping visit Pollybell website at http://www.pollybellorganic.co.uk/
We headed back for a wonderful tea laid on by Pollybell, much appreciated by all after the couple of miles of walking the groups had done to see just a small part of the farm! 
Phil Stocker thanked the Pollybell team for showing us around their very impressive operations. Phil emphasised that organic farming and growing methods must work on all scales to be considered as a viable alternative to conventional (non-organic) agriculture. Pollybell Organic is not only producing great tasting, fresh organic food for a range of markets, but the farm is providing a shining example to other producers and is helping to change unsustainable farming practices. Indeed, many non-organic growers are adopting in-row hoes to save on herbicides costs and this can only be beneficial for all longer term.


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