Andy Howard  -  Potential for Companion Cropping in UK arable systems

I am a 35 year old arable farmer from Ashford in Kent. I farm 350 hectares with my parents on the family farm. We also have a Solar Farm as a diversification. Our grassland is let out to a young local Beef Farmer.

Although I worked on the farm in the school holidays I never thought about becoming a farmer. So I went to Durham University and studied Environmental Management not realising how relevant it was going to be to my future farming career! After leaving university I travelled around the world. When I returned I decided to come back to the family farm. Dad thought I needed some proper agricultural training so I went to The Royal Agricultural College in Cirencester for a year to “study”.

As well as farming my spare time is taken up by my 2 children Rose (2) and baby Charlie. A special thanks to my partner Philippa who agreed to me applying for a Nuffield Scholarship even though she was 6 months pregnant. Also thanks to my parents for doing my work while I am travelling. I also enjoy playing hockey at Canterbury Hockey Club and other sports.

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I have always been interested in soil and trying to improve our own soils. We have been direct drilling our crops for eight years and growing cover crops for the last four. I have noticed with our cover crops that the more diverse the number of plant species in a cover crop mix the bigger and better that they all grew. This got me thinking whether this principle would be the same in our cash crops, though it was at a meeting about soils and cover crops that I heard a French Farmer Frederic Thomas talking about companion cropping with Winter Oilseed Rape that really got me interested in my subject. For the last 3 years I have been experimenting on the home farm with companion cropping. I have had enough success to give me the enthusiasm to keep experimenting. I hope my study tour will give me ideas on agronomy, machinery and establishment of companion crops as well as inspiration for other crop combinations to try.

I plan to travel to the USA, Canada and Europe. I also hope to travel to a developing country to see how farmers companion crop in extreme climatic and financial situations, producing more with less.

I would like to give a special thanks to the HGCA for sponsoring my Nuffield Scholarship.