"We want to support landowners who want to be part of the solution, and they need a better way of making decisions about their land"
18th November 2022
The new wave grain producer and farming company are helping transform thousands of acres of UK farmland – and Waddesdon Estates LLP is the latest to take the jump.
In restaurants and bakeries across the UK, a new kind of flour is making waves. It’s called Wildfarmed, and for those who take the quality of their bake and their sustainability credentials seriously, it’s some of the best you can buy.
Wildfarmed is the brainchild of Andy Cato, DJ and Grammy award-winning musician turned farmer and agricultural innovator. The enterprise, in their words, “offers a route to market for crops grown in systems that prioritise soil health.” Wildfarmed both grow their own cereals and work with farmers who share their values – strictly no herbicides, fungicides or pesticides.
It’s a hugely exciting venture. By giving regenerative farmers the opportunity to access markets at scale, Wildfarmed is showcasing the potential regenerative farming practices have to feed the UK. In a country which devotes 3.2 million hectares of land to cereals – and growing – this could encourage the conversion of thousands of acres of farmland into more agroecological systems. And it’s already starting to happen.
Wildfarmed flour can now be found in bakeries across the UK
Now Wildfarmed is pairing up its cutting-edge practices with one of the most visited estates in the country, in what could be a potentially transformative collaboration.
The 6000-acre Waddesdon Estate is perhaps best known for Waddesdon Manor, a neo-renaissance country house built by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild in the late 19th century. While the estate remains privately owned by the Rothschild family, Waddesdon Manor is one of the most-visited National Trust properties, pulling in almost 500,000 visitors a year.
Garth Clark works for the Rothschild Estate and is trialling Wildfarmed's innovative pasture cropping system
The wider estate also includes 1,200 acres of land in Whittlesey, Cambridgeshire, and it’s here that they’re trialling the innovative pasture cropping system developed by Andy and his team. Rather than planting the whole field, crops are planted in strips, with pasture or herbage lay – consisting of clovers, legumes and grasses beneficial to soil health – planted in between.
The biodiversity of plants in a single field naturally fixes nitrogen and improves soil health, reducing the need for chemicals – and a specialist mower is then used to stop the herbage lay outgrowing the wheat. Nature and technology working side-by-side, to produce food and regenerate the natural world.
It is perhaps, at first glance, an unlikely partnership. So we caught up with Garth Clark, Estate Director at Waddesdon, about how collaborations like these could help landowners and large-scale farmers switch to more regenerative practices – and bring agroecology into the mainstream.
Garth Clark has been managing Waddesdon since 2018. The decision to move into agroecological farming, he says, was easy. “It felt like a safe option. There are farmers up and down the country who have already pioneered this kind of farming, and they’ve shown us that it can and does work.”
As well as strip tilling, Wildfarmed growers also use a range of regenerative practices and Garth says they’re trialling a bit of everything. “Right now, we’re planting nurse crops to heal the land. Then we’ll introduce livestock and start growing wheat again, using the strip till system. And we’ll have this amazing flour at the end of it.”
They're also planting hundreds of metres of hedgerows and wildflower strips and introducing more diverse crops into their rotations. And they’re even looking at agroforestry. Garth is keen to emphasise the holistic and expansive nature of Wildfarmed system. “I love the name Wildfarmed because that’s what it is. It doesn’t say strip tilling or growing diverse crops. It says wild farms.”
His vision for the farm is bucolic, beautiful even – but ultimately practical. “We’ll introduce agroforestry and harvest the fruit and nuts. We’ll have cows grazing under the trees, we’ll have more hedgerows, more habitats and, as a result, no reliance on pesticides, fungicides or herbicides. And we’ll be producing food that is affordable, accessible and good for the environment.”
It’s too early to say what’s working particularly well, but Garth thinks the transition will be a process. “I think from now on our farm will always be evolving. And that’s exciting. Farming has got to evolve.”
How can we persuade conventional farmers that agroecology is the way forwards? Garth thinks some of it needs to come from landowners who are willing to take a not-so-risky risk on a different style of food production, one that values and protects the natural world. “We need the backing of landowners, people like Lord Rothschild and his daughter Hannah Rothschild, without whose support our collaboration with Wildfarmed wouldn’t have been possible.”
Scalability is key. If Wildfarmed and Waddesdon Estates LLP can prove that a typically small-scale farming approach like this can be rolled out across thousand-acre farms, the opportunities for climate adaptation, mitigation and nature restoration are huge: “There’s lots of innovation around at the moment, but it needs to be put into practice, at scale. And it must remain commercial,” Garth explains.
The Wildfarmed method uses mixes of crops and species rich cover crops, as well as integrating animals wherever possible
Garth is also hopeful that the right support from government could transform the farming sector. “The current system isn't working. It’s possible to scale up this kind of farming, but we need better legislative support and access to data in order to plan long-term decisions about our land. We need the support of landowners who want to be part of the solution, and they need a better way of making decisions about their land.”
“We need to feed the population… We have a solution that’s potentially transformative. We have this beautiful country we need to protect, and farming is going to be part of the solution to climate change and carbon emissions.” And it all, Garth thinks, comes down to the power of knowledge sharing: “how can we help each other here and farmers around the world? We need to spread the word. That’s what I’d love to do.”