Chasing yield is no longer the biggest priority for a mother and son farming partnership in Essex.
For Christy and Hew Willet, hosting an AHDB Monitor Farm allowed the pair to reflect that a big crop doesn’t always mean high profits. Instead, the pair have boosted their profitability by cutting costs.
At the final meeting of the Chelmsford Monitor Farm in February, Hew explained that benchmarking – using AHDB’s Farmbench software – had an immediate impact on their bottom line, most notably by reducing their machinery fleet and therefore depreciation, lowering their cost of production. By cutting their fixed costs Christy and Hew no longer spend money on crops that don’t establish.
‘Benchmarking made a huge difference in the short term. By disposing of machinery we didn’t need, we were able to save money and invest in other areas of the business,’
Soil health is now higher on their agenda as Christy and Hew look to build on what they’ve learned. One of the most significant changes has been the decision to re-introduce sheep: Parklands Farm is now home to 200 ewes, incorporated into the arable rotation.
Three years ago neither Hew nor Christy would have contemplated grass, let alone herbal leys, however listening to a talk by local farmer, Ian Metson, at one of their meetings encouraged them to do some research. They are now reaping the results of the beneficial effects to their soil health.
“We incorporated the sheep into the rotation by having cover crops. Ian really sold us the idea when he explained that using livestock in this way was, for him, better than any break crop,
” said Christy.
Integrating livestock has also put the fun back into farming for the pair as it meant introducing a new element to their farming system. Listening to speakers at the regular meetings led Christy and Hew to widen their rotation, improving Parklands Farm’s profitability and their work-life balance.
AHDB Knowledge Exchange Manager for the East Anglia region, Teresa Meadows said:
“It is fantastic to have worked with Christy and Hew, along with the local Essex farming community over the past three years. Their farm business has made significant progress in reducing the cost structure, bringing a wider diversity of crops into the rotation, changing establishment techniques and more, which has been shared along the way to the benefit of all to learn.
We have covered a diverse range of topics through the Monitor Farm programme from marketing, achieving yield potential, carbon and borage to benchmarking, soils and robots. I look forward to seeing how these messages and learnings benefit arable businesses in the area further going forwards.”
While Christy and Hew may be ending their tenure as Monitor Farmers, they will remain part of AHDB’s alumni Monitor Farm network. Christy said she was looking forward to a trip to the Hereford Monitor Farm in the coming weeks to take part in a Dragon’s Den-style competition.
Following the end of the Chelmsford Monitor Farm, there will now be a new host appointed in East Anglia. The farm will sit alongside the Diss Monitor Farm in Norfolk and Duxford Monitor Farm in Cambridgeshire. The new Monitor Farm will be announced in March.
Anyone interested in learning more about Chelmsford Monitor Farm, including topics covered in meetings, can visit the Chelmsford Monitor Farm page on the AHDB website: ahdb.org.uk/farm-excellence/chelmsford