Shimpling Park Farm - Organic Farming through COVID-19

As with many businesses this year, Shimpling Park Farm has not had an easy ride. We spoke with John Pawsey about how they've coped, what obstacles they have had to overcome and how the farm has learned to adapt.

Shimpling Park Farm - Organic Farming through COVID-19

Image courtesy of Shimpling Park Farm

Shimpling Park Farm is a beautiful and tranquil place, run by John and Alice Pawsey. John’s family have farmed in Suffolk for four generations, and since 1999 they have farmed organically for their family, as well as helping like-minded neighbouring farmers. They reintroduced livestock onto the farm in 2014 to recycle nutrients and are now using modern technology to control weeds, pests and diseases without the use of pesticides. The farm builds fertility naturally using legumes and green manures with the aim of leaving their soil in good health for future generations as well as having a positive effect on biodiversity and operating as a carbon negative farm.

As with a lot of businesses this year, COVID-19 and the ensuing lockdown provided big challenges on the farm. They had already been hindered by a wet winter so when they went into lockdown on 23 March, they had only planted 20% of the spring crops and still had their flocks of New Romney sheep to look after. After working to interpret lockdown guidelines within their team, they had to quickly train up the locals who joined the farm to help out. It was a challenge, but they managed to turn the situation into a positive experience.

Alice had the foresight to start a video diary of the farm work in the early stages of lockdown, and they have continued to regularly updated their website with new posts. Shimpling Park Farm usually hosts schools for visits that give pupils a valuable insight into the countryside, the business of farming and the fun of learning outside of the classroom. However, due to restrictions the 25 visits that had already been booked had to be cancelled. The video diary provided a connection from the farm to the schools as well as the local community and beyond.

After making it through the initial challenges that COVID posed, John and Alice were dealt a further blow. Just after harvest, which was poorer than usual due to a dry spring, they found out that they could potentially be losing one of their key customers. For the past decade, the Pawseys have supplied organic grains and beans to a company that supplies a multiple retailer with organic pork. The relationship was based on a pricing structure that was fair to all parties but their customer, having recently been bought by a large U.S. corporation, have imported all of their requirements to the end of December this year and are looking to renegotiate the long-standing deal.

The retailer maintains that they still wish to support UK sourced organic feed grain, but in this instance, Alice and John along with a group of other UK organic farmers we left feeling badly let down; such unilateral action damages confidence in the organic sector. It is a cause for concern for Alice and John and poses the question for UK consumers; how concerned are you with the supply chain of the organic food that you buy, and does it extend to the feed that the organic livestock the you purchase is being fed?

It has been a very hard year, but John is seeing it as an opportunity to diversify the business. And it hasn’t all been doom and gloom. The farm also supplies Whites Oats, who have a strong ethos of working with their farmers and last year, arranged for the farmers who supply them to go to their mill and learn more about oat quality, the kernel content and hullability. To improve grain quality, Whites and the farmers jointly funded a research programme; the farmers contribute 50p per tonne for each tonne of oats sold, and Whites pay £1. This is a unique collaboration in a supply chain with both farmers and miller working together with shared values.

So as always in life, when one door closes, another opens and we are sure that Shimpling Park Farm will continue to turn the life’s lemons into lemonade.

Let us know what you think: should organic livestock farmers feed UK sourced organic grains or are you indifferent to whether these are imported from across the globe?

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