Nick Padwick - South Pickenham Estate
East Anglian farmer chooses organic to maximise profits
In the last 5 years Nick Padwick, farm manager at the South Pickenham Estate, has transformed the infertile sandy soils into top quality producing grass and veg plots. He has gone from just 97 cattle to a 200 strong suckler herd. Streamlining the estate, and taking an overall view of the farm, from making use of all waste to maximising the yield of land for beef and crops, has helped South Pickenham cut losses and increase profit.
"Tom Hartley at the Soil Association has a lot to do with us going organic. My experience is if you are up front and honest with the Soil Association they are happy to have an open discussion. There’s always a way around things if we sit and talk about it, and Tom has always helped us find a solution and make the whole process of certification much easier".
One of the first decisions Nick made was in grass management. The estate already had grass leys certified as organic land, but they were losing money.
“I knew that large scale organic conversion on the estate would help maximise income through various channels. Only a small proportion of our grass was actually being used, as feed for cattle, and I knew that there was more potential for the land.The benefits that come with organic practices such as bringing livestock into rotations, changing crops each year and planting a more diverse grass ley has wider benefits to the whole farm – from improving the nutrients in the soils, to finding new outlets for our produce.
Diversification and reaching new routes to market
Diversifying to selling a range of products helps Nick supply demand from supermarkets. South Pickenham has very sandy soils and when he took on the farm their organic matter was very low. Nick’s main weapon for improving soil organic matter is mustard, grown in the three years that the land is set to grass.
We now sell organic beef, leeks, calebrese and peas into Waitrose and Sainsbury’s, both of whom really value our Soil Association Certification, as it shows them that we don’t just ‘grow on organic land’, but our produce is reaching the high organic standards that Soil Association Certification requires.
“The mixed farming system works very well for me as I use the muck from the cows to restore fertility to the soils and feed the cattle with forage during the three years the leys are set to grass. I change the crops we grow during the second set of the three year rotation, depending on what the supermarkets want, and what’s in season”.
He also uses the mustard to fumigate the land; “once we harvest our organic peas we plant mustard, then chop it so the cuttings kill the weed seeds. We need to do this every year on the farm to sustain organic matter in the soil, and in order to prevent the weeds that we would otherwise kill with pesticides, but we are seeing the land hold its fertility much more than it did before.”