Farmer: Sophie Gregory
Organic Dairy 360-400 cows
Arable, beef and rewilding
The right advice at the right time
Farmers are masters of the 'juggle,' and Sophie Gregory is certainly no stranger to that. Running a thriving organic dairy in Dorset, she manages between 360-400 cows alongside arable and beef, all while starting a Nuffield this year and contributing to the Arla sustainability board. To say she's busy is an understatement.
Sophie's energy is contagious. She and her partner are first-generation farmers, a stark contrast to her previous life as an accountant. However, her love for numbers persists, and Home Farm is no stranger to measurement and baselining. Through Sophie's work on the Arla sustainability board, the farm already boasts six years of carbon profiling.
When Arla approached her to trial Exchange on the farm, Sophie was eager. "I need to make sure we are sustainable on the bottom line, but also having a positive impact on the environment and the community we farm in. The fact that Exchange brings together a broad range of metrics so that you can start to see how they interplay was crucial."
Holistic farm data measurement
Exchange spent a day at Home Farm, with a technician collecting ground-truthed data like soil cores, hedgerow assessments, and bird surveys. Will Campbell-Clause, an Exchange Farming Advisor, also visited the farm to truly understand its operations. He sat down with Sophie to run through some Exchange questionnaires and carbon calculator inputs. These various data sets, combined with remote sensing data, generate an online dashboard showing how each of the six indicators scores.
Covering animal welfare, biodiversity, carbon, soil health, and social aspects, there were areas that the farm hadn't explored before. "Birds were a nice surprise," says Sophie. "We knew we had good variety on the farm but hadn't given it enough time to delve into the details of what we have. My partner and I both have the Merlin app, but we haven't spent enough time out there."
Sophie continues, "As a tenant, that was really quantifiable data that I could give to my landlord. They could see that we were looking after the environment the farm is in because it is providing a habitat for this diversity."
Bespoke farming advice
The quality of farming advice was a game-changer for Sophie. "Our advisor. Will was incredibly engaging and brings an out-of-the-box view to the farm. While he knows farming inside out, he comes from a different background and really understands the importance of good food. He delved into the details of our payments and whether we are maximizing them."
Getting the farm's carbon footprint down is a long-term objective. Will and Sophie discussed how agroforestry could be trialled on some sections of the farm, likely funded within SFI in 2024.
Will comments “This approach brings multiple benefits, including reducing the farm's carbon balance over time and providing potential second income streams from land while still being able to graze within a silvo-pastoral scheme. The positive impact on the dairy herd, including shade and protection once the trees are large enough, as well as foraging opportunities, is substantial. There will also be benefits to soil organic matter through leaf fall and nutrient cycling, with more significant carbon sequestration in the trees”
The farm can couple this with hedgerow management funding also through SFI - HRW1 pays £3/100m/side to assess and record hedges, while HRW2 pays £10/100m/side to manage the hedge in a nature-friendly way. There are also payments to establish hedgerow trees under HRW3 at £10/100m (both sides). For gapping hedges in hedges Home Farm can apply for capital grants through CS. All this can result in more complete and better managed hedgerows that can be allowed to grow larger – increasing both biodiversity and carbon sequestration.
The farm is already skilled at herbal leys and has been using them for some time. Will continues “Taking this to the next level involves adding more diversity to the herbal leys, including more flowering plants to help insect populations. Additionally, SFI offers payments (£333/ha) for taking out corners of fields to allow tussocky grass to grow (IGL1), providing year-round habitats for birds and other wildlife.”
Home Farm scored an impressive 4.5 out of 5 on animal welfare, and Will reminded them that under SFI, they can receive £372 for a dairy cattle review by their vet.
Sophie reflects, "What we found invaluable was that Will could challenge us and provide a second opinion. He wasn't trying to sell us anything, so we knew we could trust and value that advice. He really linked the advice not only with its environmental impact but also with how it could support the farm operations, and of course how it could be funded —joining the dots for us."
"I really think you can’t underestimate the importance of baselines. Baseline now, and you are set up to be ready to get on future new revenue schemes with your business partners" says Sophie.
Home Farm Partnership was funded to take part in Exchange Excel through Arla Dairy.