On Farm Innovation: Edwin Taylor

Back in the summer, Jasmine went to visit Edwin Taylor at his mixed livestock and arable farm in County Durham. Edwin is a natural experimenter with various trials taking place across his farm. Most recently, he has been working with a group from BASE UK and Newcastle University on a field lab assessing how inputs affect in-field variation of his no-till soils. Jasmine asked him what motivated him to get involved.

“I want to know the benefits of different applications. Hypothetically, if I had £10 to spend on improving soil health, would I want to spend it on bringing in farm yard manure or gypsum?” The field lab has taken place over a year and is continuing into a second, with a slight variation in emphasis on understanding cost benefits as well as soil health benefits between the different inputs. Edwin will also be trialling compost applications as a part of this. Another triallist in the group is trialling paper-waste, whilst a third farmer is sold on gypsum and wants to track its benefits more scientifically.

Edwin with field lab coordinator, Paul Flynn

Growing innovation: arable trials

Edwin’s other trials include a Frontier trial of spring oat cover crops, which work well for his rotation but need to be drilled densely if they are to outcompete meadow grass. He employs around 70% winter cropping and 30% spring cropping arable system. Edwin has had lots of soil tests through NIAB, including soil organic matter testing. He is also trialling as part of BASE UK and strongly believes in conservation agriculture. For this he is ongoing no-till rotation, using a LEADR sponsored direct drill and bulk density and deep Nitrogen tests taken. Edwin thinks that CA is “more than just spring cropping, you need diversity”. His diversity includes winter wheat, spring oats, winter and spring beans, radish and oil seed rape. The radish provides a good broad-leaved cover which outcompetes weeds. 

In August, he had his bean crop sprayed off and has now drilled in winter wheat, oilseed rape, and linseed and fodder for cattle feed. The radish will have rotted down adding nutrients and organic matter to the soil. There is no herbicide applied to the spring beans where they aren’t ploughed, and there is only fungicide applied to the winter beans.

For Frontier, Edwin also has a 14,000-tonne capacity commercial grain store which is an important income for the farm. In this, he dries, cleans and processes grain for other farmers and also works with United Oilseeds.

Edwin's beef herd

Breeding and grazing for soil health and biodiversity

The farm used to have sheep, however, given uncertainty and worries about Brexit, a high labour bill and fluctuating prices, Edwin has sold them off. His beef herd are now the focus of attention, particularly in creating a breed that has a good accessible market. Currently, the herd doesn’t have this but does have the hardy characteristics needed to graze year-round on a range of forage and calve independently. Edwin has Galloway and Belted Galloways which he has crossed with White Shorthorns to produce Blue Greys and now plans to cross them with Angus to create a meat that’s more marketable and with an earlier finishing grass-fed product, importantly without losing the great characteristics of the former breed. These qualities mean that there are less inputs to the system through buying in feed and the herd also doesn’t need as much medical care. Edwin also employs an interesting grazing system – grazing down to the bare bones to avoid leaving only the competitive, less palatable species to go to seed. He is also interested in mob grazing and is currently implementing this. He rests areas of grazed grass for 60 days and then comes back to them in rotation, this gives plenty of time for them to bounce back. As the cattle are outside, there isn’t farmyard manure to put onto the arable fields, so this is often bought in as fertiliser.

The straw that is produced is sold off and Edwin admits that he should chop and incorporate this back into his soil. The prices for the straw sold in Ayrshire – £100 / t - are too good to turn down, however, and a cover crop can be put in for less cost and similar benefits. He also adds compost in, for which he’d like to get a processing plant on-farm because at the moment he buys it in.

Edwin thinks carefully about the full costs of the farm, including family and extended family as well as the future health of the farm. Ultimately, he wants to do what is best for soil and livestock health, whilst providing for his family and reducing costs.

Find out more about the field lab Edwin is part of > 


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