Innovative Farmers On Countryfile!
On Countryfile this weekend viewers were treated to a bit of a glimpse of some gorgeous Shropshire sheep running through a traditional English orchard in Herefordshire. In the autumn mist the sheep and the trees painted the perfect picture of the English countryside.
But it’s not always like this. To maintain a healthy orchard many farmers spray their trees several times before harvest, to keep away pests and disease. Sheep are not allowed to frolic in the leafy shade because they are known for their destructive tree munching!
However star of the show and owner of the orchard in question at Broome Farm is Mike Johnson, one of our Innovative Farmers, and he has some rather unusual management techniques which could offer an alternative for more natural farming.
Broome Farm – typical orchard, not so typical techniques
Mike is one of Herefordshire’s traditional orchard owners who grows apples and pears for cider production. Most of his apples go to Bulmer’s but he keeps some to make his own cider and Perry which is then sold through the local pub.
Broome Farm is a mix of traditional orchard, with trees standing quite far apart in the orchard, as well as a more modern ‘bush’ style orchard, where smaller trees are planted in straight lines so that modern machinery can move through to facilitate the harvest.
Mike made the decision to minimise many modern practices, including the use of fungicide sprays which are commonly used in orchards to reduce the risk of infection or pests.
One of his innovative ideas involved teaming up with nephew Toby, who was featured on Countryfile this weekend, to bring the more unusual breed of Shropshire sheep into the orchard.
So why are sheep baaa-red from orchards
This rather unusual idea – sheep are not a commonplace sight in orchards, mainly because most sheep love the taste of the trees; bark, apples, twigs – they’re all a delicious treat for the sheep – has been supported by the Innovative Farmers network, part of the Duchy Future Farming programme which is supported by Waitrose and funded by the Prince of Wales’ Charitable Foundation.
The network helps make farmers ideas a reality, by linking them with the right research support and technical advice, so that together the group can run a robust field lab and find real results about the benefits of such imaginative techniques. In turn, with the right results, these techniques may be adopted by other farmers too.
Shropshire sheep, Mike’s answer to spraying and orchard management, are one of the UK’s rarer breeds, and do not appear to have such apple tree tastebuds. These Shropshire sheep have been grazing through the orchards at Broome Farm and so far results look good.
Impact of sheep in orchards
The field lab has shown that the Shropshire sheep are not destroying the trees – rather the opposite. They are helping to keep the grass down, reducing the need to bring more machinery into the orchard which can make the soil hard and compacted. Their poo is helping improve the fertility of the earth and the apple harvest is just as good as expected.
The group hopes to continue the trials with more funding – so watch out for more Shropshire sheep in orchards around the country!
To read more about the field lab at Broome Farm, and find out how farmers across the UK are linking up to share ideas and field lab results, go to the Innovative Farmers website.