NSA hosts international organic farmers, vets and advisors

22nd June 2022

Sharing insights into organic farming practices in the UK, the National Sheep Association (NSA) was pleased to welcome and act as host to a group of 14 international farmers from Turkey, Spain and Italy last week. As part of an EU Erasmus funded study tour, the group of farmers, vets, lecturers and advisors were treated to a jam-packed week of learning, teaching and training, organised by NSA.

The visitors educational week began at FarmED in the Cotswolds where Jonty Brunyee, FarmEd Head of Sustainable Farming, welcomed the group highlighting the background story of centre, discussing how the demonstration farm, bought in 2010 by Cotswold Seeds began its journey and became what it is today.

Nicola Noble, NSA Project Manager comments: “The group thoroughly enjoyed this visit. We heard all about the enterprise diversification and the role of organics and regenerative farming principles on this 107-acre (43ha) site. The group were impressed, demonstrating the potential many farms have to boost their business.”

After a detailed overview of regenerative farming in theory and the field, the group moved on to FAI farm, Oxford, to observe regenerative farming on a commercial scale. FAI uses holistic planned grazing and focuses on regenerative principles, enabling the farm to outwinter all their cattle despite the farm being on heavy, clay soils and being on a flood plain.  

The group’s second day saw a return to FarmED to learn more about the role of herbal leys. With a full day of theory and practical on this subject, by the end of the day the group understood the value of herbal leys for improving soil health and fertility, as well as boosting liveweight gain in sheep and cattle.
Jonty Brunyee, FarmEd Head of Sustainable Farming comments: “It was wonderful to welcome the group to share thoughts, challenges and practice. It’s not surprising that they took great interest in the herbal ley day, discussing how deep rooting plants can be used in dry climates. We were happy to offer a friendly learning environment, hopefully giving them the confidence to make on farm changes in their respective countries.”

After two days in Oxfordshire, NSA whisked the group cross county to Shropshire to attend the Down to Earth regenerative event, allowing engagement with UK farmers and businesses. With a wide variety of knowledgeable speakers from different livestock sectors the group was also able to select sessions appropriate to their personal and professional interests.

NSA Chief Executive Phil Stocker says: “With my background in organic farming world, I was keen to engage with the study group at Down to Earth. Some were old acquaintances from NSA’s past involvement in the iSAGE project, but many were new to both the UK and NSA. At a time where farmers are battling weather extremes alongside sustainability challenges, learning from those already affected by long hot summers, periods of extreme drought and flash floods can only be of benefit. Adapting will be critical in these uncertain times.”

On Thursday, the group joined NSA Central Region members for a farm tour of the prestigious Bamford estate, part of JCB farms owned by Lord and Lady Bamford. NSA English Committee Member and Grazing Manager Matthew Haydon, imparted his knowledge, offering multiple take home messages for the keen organic internationals.

Mrs Noble comments: “With numerous challenges being faced by UK farmers, it’s not surprising that enterprise stacking, the idea of creating more opportunities from one piece of farmland, is becoming more popular. Bamford estate is a great example of diversity, running organic sheep, cattle, deer and poultry and then processing onsite to supply their farm shops and larger retailers. NSA would like to thank Lord and Lady Bamford for this opportunity as well as Matthew, for his time and expertise.”

The group finally concluded their UK tour at Fordhall Organic Farm, England’s first community-owned farm in North Shropshire, a great example of community pulling together to support local farmers, where more than 8,000 people across the world have invested enabling siblings Charlotte and Ben Hollins to save their family farm from commercial development.

NSA was honoured to host the weeklong study trip that engaged and inspired the international group. Strong relationships with UK organic farmers were founded, and similar cross country study tours are already being planned.