Report Synopsis

Building a Sustainable Farm Business

Jonathan Brunyee

I grew up on a Nottinghamshire arable farm. From a young age I believed that food production and the environment must go hand in hand. I practise this belief on my own organic and pasture-fed farm in the Cotswolds, my wife and I working closely with our landlords and sponsor, the National Trust.

My Nuffield Farming journey allowed me to study various models for building a sustainable farm business, valuing our environmental, human and social assets. While travelling through Romania, USA, Canada and China, plus on trips to Italy, France, Belgium and Ireland, I explored the concept of sustainability, and met with a range of inspirational eco-entrepreneurial farmers and pioneering academics.

Our ecosystems and natural resources are being continually depleted. We are far from achieving a sustainable level of existence and development, and travelling the globe has confirmed this to me. Agriculture and our food chains are, whether we like it or not, a major culprit.

However, our wonderful industry also has many of the answers, and I witnessed great examples of practical farming and pragmatic programmes that deliver. Within the regenerative practices of Joel Salatin at Polyface Farm in West Virginia, the farming systems trials at the Rodale Institute, and the work of organic entrepreneurs Dan and Tincuta Cismas in Transylvania, I saw hope.

My conclusions fall under eight key themes. To build a sustainable farm business and a future proof industry we must:

  1. Tell our story and celebrate our industry
  2. Put soil health first
  3. Celebrate the role of small farmers
  4. Nurture people
  5. Seek outcomes not output, effectiveness not efficiency
  6. Build diversity and complexity
  7. Seek regenerative agricultural systems
  8. Move to a true cost paradigm

This report offers recommendations for the industry and my sponsor. I also consider what next for my farm and my academic role at the Royal Agricultural University.

The challenge for the industry is to build new integrated policies and mechanisms for farming, food and the environment that deliver the full range of public goods. This will take time, clear thinking, leadership, communication and a decent budget. Brexit, which none of us saw coming at the start of our Nuffield Farming experience, should now be seen as an opportunity to build a more sustainable, dare I say, regenerative system that works with nature, not against it.

Similar Reports

  • 2019

    Animal Medicine Best Practice: unlocking the potential for UK farming

    Grace O'Gorman
  • 2019

    Regenerative Agriculture: Making the Change Happen

    Dan Burdett
  • 2019

    Farmer to farmer knowledge exchange: Relevance and challenges during change

    Vicky Robinson