In my early teens, I worked for my father on landscaping work including paving, fencing and tree planting. He had a couple of tractors I used to drive. I thought “I quite like this”, so when I turned 19 off I went to Harper Adams to study agriculture.
After graduating I found a job on a Velcourt-managed farm, driving tractors and feeding cows. Full of optimism the following year I travelled to Australia and New Zealand where I spend 12 months out of 16 working on farms driving lorries, tractors, combines and milking cows, also with a stint delivering Yellow Pages.
When returning to the UK I worked for a contract farming company in Oxfordshire for over 10 years. This started as a summer job and ended with me being a manager of over 1,000 ha.
The move to Morley
In 2008 I moved to Morley and have never looked back. With 3 of us employed we all get involved with most tasks. My job is the most varied. The farm is a typical South Norfolk farm growing combinable crops and sugar beet on a commercial basis. The farm hosts field trials for third-party organisations including NIAB, JIC, and BBRO. We provide space in the field and some agronomic input, e.g. weed control. The rest of the trial is completed by others.
One minute I can be cleaning drains. In the next, I can be discussing a large research project.
My job has evolved over the years with the expansion of the farm but also includes managing 25,000 sq ft of let storage. I get involved with most aspects of The Morley Agricultural Foundation (TMAF) including hosting visitors, gathering content for the website, and helping develop and execute a number of research projects. The research has expanded to include more partners wanting to place field trials at the farm.
It was explained when I started that bad farm performance cannot be blamed on field trials. That’s why, over the years, we have worked hard to make the trials fit seamlessly in with the farming activities.
TMAF’s strengths are not only to fund research projects but also host much of the work on its farm. Also, being able to help people develop their skills and experiences. This is on many levels including PhD’s and MSc students but also helping people with their agronomy knowledge.
One area I am particularly proud of is helping people be better at communicating about science and agriculture. This is via the annual John Forrest Award Communication Course. This is a 3-day course I did in 2011. I am pleased to say I have been invited back to share my experiences to every group since. There have been over 100 candidates that all speak with great enthusiasm about their experience. The course’s content and skills covered has evolved. Back in 2011 when I was a participant, social media was less of a thing and zoom was what the dog did as it ran around the garden.
Being part of the evolution of farming knowledge
You might think that at a research farm, there would be amazing scientific breakthroughs every week. The reality is that the knowledge evolves over the years. Farming practices have changed over the last 15 years: more emphasis on soil health, more efficient use of crop nutrients, and new crops such as forage maize and rye to produce electricity are now in the rotation.
The best agribusinesses in future will be those that can adapt to a changing world. Whilst confidence in tried and tested experience will remain important, being flexible to the opportunities or restrictions from, for example, climate change, political intervention and consumer expectation will be key.
My life and interests away from the farm
My wife and I have three children, two at university and one at drama school. I have a small sailing boat that I use on the Norfolk Broads. It has a small cabin to sleep in but the criteria was to have a craft that I could make a cup of tea on. Many people play golf or go shooting, I enjoy inviting people to join me sailing on the Broads. Over the last few years I have been riding my bike offroad. Disused railways are good for this as there is no traffic and gentle gradients. YouTube has inspired me to do all kinds of things including repairing a boat with a hole in the bottom, building canoes, making charcoal, and restoring a 20-year old pick up, not to mention making me better informed about many places around the world including the Bahamas and rural USA.