David Walston  -  Improving yields & profits by improving soils

Worshipful Company of Farmers

I grew up in a farming family in Cambridgeshire, but for the first 26 years of my life had very little idea what happened on the farm outside the harvest months. After studying biology at university, then working as a photographer and magazine editor for the following six years, I found myself working back on the farm in 2009. We are a predominantly arable farm, growing wheat, rapeseed, peas, beans and sugar beet, on an area of about 800ha. Aside from this I have a small herd of Wagyu cattle, started from scratch using imported frozen embryos. Although when I started farming I had very little knowledge, and not a huge amount of enthusiasm for the task, it has really grown on me to the point where I cannot imagine doing anything else. I am looking forward to my studies, and hoping that they will help me to significantly improve the farm in the coming years.

I live on the farm with my wife Sabrina, and 16 month old daughter Elyse.

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After a few years working on our farm, I noticed that the best field we had was the one which was most recently pasture. This is a fact known by most farmers, but it seemed to me that there was an acceptance that these fields would slowly deteriorate down to the level of all the others. I wondered why we could not instead try to make every field this productive, without having to sacrifice them to decades of relatively unprofitable grassland. Over the past couple of years we have experimented with direct drilling, cover cropping, soil nutrition, and even bringing back livestock into the arable rotation. I hope to be able to study all of these areas on my Nuffield travels, and learn how best to improve the quality of our soils, so that we can use fewer inputs to produce higher yields, greater sustainability, and larger profits.