The benefits of Farmer Field School
Why should busy farmers take time out of their day to visit other people’s farms? Isn’t that a bit of a busman’s holiday? Not at all, if the experience of this group of farmers from the South West of England is anything to go by …
Neston Park Farm, Wiltshire, 19th May 2021
Kate Still, Soil Association farming programme delivery manager
Paul Redmore, Neston Park farm manager, Paul Newland, Neston Park herd manager, Tom Lander, Neston Park farm worker, Richard Brown, Fir Farm, Gloucestershire, Helen Saunders, Eastrop Farm, Swindon and Edward Rawlings, Park Farm, Swindon
What are Farmer Field Schools?
Farmer Field Schools are a vital component of the RELACS project. They’re a chance for organic farmers from the same geographical area to compare, discuss, challenge and change how they practice and problem solve.
What’s the purpose Farmer Field Schools?
While the main purpose of the group is to discuss reducing antibiotic use on their farms, in reality conversations are much more free-flowing, reflecting the complex nature of the issues they face. ‘No decision is made in isolation’ says Paul Redmore, Farm Manager at Neston Park Farm, ‘We’re all dealing with multiple issues, many of which have complex environmental, financial and animal welfare implications’.
This meeting was a case in point. Topics ranged from lamb and dairy prices, management of mastitis and foul-in-the-foot without antibiotics, dealing with herbal ley rotation cycles, the pros and cons of straw beds and cubicles (with increasing straw prices) and much more besides.
The benefits of peer to peer learning
Richard Brown, from Fir Farm in the Cotswolds, agrees with Paul. ‘I tend not to come to these meetings with an agenda in mind. Everyone has their opinion and it builds from that’.
As Paul Redmore led the group through several paddocks of the herbal leys, Edward Rawlings from Park Farm near Swindon reflected, ‘What I enjoy is seeing improvements over time on other people’s farms – you get to go back and see if things have worked or not. We have made different decisions based on what’s come out of this discussion group. Some of the group do block calving (we calve all year round), so I’ve been interested in how they manage milking and grazing routines, and what grasses they’ve sown’.
Trust and respect are central to Farmer Field School
Helen Saunders from Eastrop Farm, Swindon has found trust and respect in the group particularly beneficial. ‘I would definitely feel comfortable voicing a concern I have on farm with this group. There’s no judgement. We’re facing the same issues and trying out different ideas – some work and some don’t!’.
Neston Park’s herd manager Paul Newland has the last word: ‘It’s an opportunity to learn from other people’s mistakes! Every day’s a school day in farming …’.
RELACS stands for Replacement of Contentious Inputs in Organic Farming Systems. Find out more about the project and opportunities to get involved.