The Dixon family (Terry, Eileen & Thomas) have dairy-farmed Brackenthwaite Farm in Cumbria for over 30 years. The farm has 323ha of predominantly Severely Disadvantaged Area. Most of the land is used for dairy, but there is a small area of arable too. The Dixons have long recognised the importance of the relationship between the productivity of a farm and its effect on the environment.
We’ve always been very keen on the carbon stuff. We’ve planted loads of hedges on the farm. We try to be very environmentally based – we were organic for a while. We try to reduce inputs as much as we can: SRC Willow ticks a lot of boxes!
They’ve striven to encourage biodiversity with the planting of many hedges and for a number of years they were farming their land organically. However, in 2013, with milk prices becoming extremely volatile, the Dixons returned to traditional dairy farming. This in turn left them with unused land. The high initial costs associated with expanding a dairy herd made Terry start looking for other ways of using this surplus land. In 2015, Terry met Neil Watkins of Energy Crops Consultancy at a farmers’ club. He was very impressed with Neil’s knowledge of the exciting new farming model of SRC Willow plantations.
As soon as he mentioned that SRC Willow could produce profits of £200 p/acre, my ears pricked up! Since we’ve planted it on land that wasn’t really producing anything, I think it could produce even more!
Following their meeting, Neil took Terry to visit sites that had already planted SRC Willow. When the Dixons took the decision to plant SRC Willow, Neil was on hand to assist Terry and Eileen in choosing the areas of their land best-suited to SRC Willow and selecting the right Willow varieties. As a result of Neil’s consultations, Terry planted 29.5ha of willow. Using Neil’s contacts in both the planting and harvesting phases, Terry now has his own sustainable supply of woodchip to power his 1kW biomass boiler, which he uses for drying grass, barley and bedding. Neil was able to advise even on this very technical purchasing decision. Terry also sells part of his woodchip harvest to a local paper mill, who have an onsite power generator.
Terry was really impressed with Neil;
It was his enthusiasm, right from the start! Whatever we came up with, he knew the answers. He really did know everything about Willow! It’s all worked out really well, and that’s down to Neil. He’s a friend; you can trust him.
Brackenthwaite Farm is now in a position to see surplus land returned to profitability at a higher rate than leasing the land to other farmers. The long life span of an SRC Willow plantation means, that even though it takes up to 7 years for initial expenditure payback, the next 10-15 years will give excellent profit yields, due in part to Willow’s low input requirements.
We’ll leave the last word to Terry:
It’s really a low cost way of farming –
maybe we should convert the whole farm!