Their agronomist is Peter Forster who has been working with them since 2010 and visits the farm every week. “He is very helpful indeed,” says Stella “And very reliable, he’s here every Wednesday, just like clockwork. What I like about him is that he is not pushy at all, just happy to give you good advice.”
And the guidance does not stop with the crops in the field. “Natasha went on a pre-BASIS course, and Peter has taken the time to work with her and help her with her studies,” Stella explains. “She had lots of questions which he was able to answer and he’s lent her lots of books; that has been very beneficial indeed.” Most importantly his advice on the farm seems to be paying off, “The crops always look well, you can’t give an agronomist better praise than that.”
A particular area of interest and focus for Stella is the health of her soil. “I’m very interested in my soil,” she says. “I want to do all that I can to improve the structure. I’m trying to increase the organic matter every year, so for example, I chop all my straw and put it back in. In the past all the straw from the farm was sold, every last bit. I could do the same today and make quite a lot of profit from it, but it is more important to me to enhance the soil, and at the end of the day, this is returning P and K to the land.” She has been incorporating the straw for the last ten years and is reaping the benefits. “It does take a while for the straw to break down,” she admits, “but then we started the potassium levels were shocking, and I can see a real difference now.”
Following on from this, for the last four years, Stella has been working with Aidan Monaghan from SOYL who has carried out nutrient mapping on the farm. Soil samples are taken and GPS technology is used to allow variation across the land to be accurately mapped. Each sample is analysed for phosphorus, potassium, magnesium and lime.