Hannah Darby

Occupation

Farmer.

Address

Roughs Farm, Cambridgeshire.

Cropping

Winter wheat, spring oats, spring barley, spring wheat, spring beans, peas, potatoes, other crops.

About the farmer

Hannah farms the family farm with her uncle and is a fourth-generation farmer. Farming is Hannah’s second career, as prior to farming she was a physiotherapist. She did a degree in physiotherapy and practiced until 2013, when she realized that she missed farming and so decided to go back and study again, doing a Masters in arable crop management at Writtle College. After graduation Hannah worked part time on the family farm and part time as a physiotherapist until returning to farming full time, just over two years ago.

Hannah grew up on the farm and was inspired into farming by her Dad, who was extremely hard working and enthusiastic, which has rubbed off on Hannah. She started back on the farm at about the same time as six other local farmers who all, like her, had previous careers. Hannah said, “It was just by chance that we were all starting out in farming at the same time. We walk round one another’s farms and have been learning from each other. We do benchmarking with the AHDB and have our own group.”

Hannah is very keen on the technological aspect of farming, she said, “I’m all for new technology. I can’t wait for the future with regards to new technology as there are some really exciting things in the pipeline.”

About the farm

The farm is in one of the driest parts of the country (except this year) receiving approximately 450mm of rain annually. There are 3 farms in the business, the main farm, Roughs Farm at Sawtry Fen where the Real Results Circle trial is, is completely flat. It is fen and has been farmed for almost 100 years; it is all below sea level, so Hannah is reliant on pumps to take the water out. The majority of the fields are bordered by ditches.

Across the whole unit, soil type ranges from black organic silty clays to clay. The organic soils are quite low in trace elements, particularly manganese. Hannah said, “If fen soils are over worked they become very fluffy and that causes manganese deficiency. Black soils are also very rich in organic matter which causes the plants to become lazy as they have as much nitrogen as they need. The consequence of this is that they don’t root well, so when we don’t get rain it is a bit of a double whammy as there isn’t the root system there to find any water that is available. The number one goal is to get the roots down as deep as we can in the winter.”

When it comes to wheat establishment, Hannah makes assessments on a field by field basis. She said, “Wheats on the farm are mainly established by direct drilling, however, it depends on soil structure and weed pressure. If we think we can get away with either just rolling the soil or not moving it at all then the majority will be direct drilled. If there is any compaction that we feel we have to remove we will use a cultivator to do that but if the soil structure is good, then we will direct drill.”

Cover crops are grown to stop the soil blowing away and Hannah plans to have sheep graze them off, if soil conditions allow.

Hannah introduced guidance and yield mapping quite early on when she came back to the farm. The new sprayer has boom levelling and nozzle shut off, as well as technology on it to ensure the chemical will be applied more accurately and to make it more efficient, providing financial savings.

Hannah said, “We went into the Countryside Stewardship last year on two farms. Most of the fields on one of the other farms we have put 6m buffer strips of flower and nectar mix to try and encourage bees. Those strips will be in for at least the 5 years of the scheme.”

Farming philosophy

Hannah said, “You have got to make money. If you don’t make any money, none of the environmental benefits or the soil benefits that we can make will happen.”

As well as making a profit, it is also really important to Hannah that they farm in a sustainable way. She said, “The majority of the farm is on the Fen so it is lovely black organic soil, but it is very, very prone to wind erosion. You can see in the lifetime of our family farming the Fen, that it has significantly shrunk and we have lost a lot of soil, through cultivation, wind and excessively dry seasons before the water levels were held up in the ditches. It is really important to me that we keep the soil there as that is what makes us profitable but also, it is what we will be passing on to future generations and likewise, the things that we are doing with environmental stewardship will benefit future generations.”

Hannah is also keen to be more involved with the public and show off the environmental schemes, in order to show the positive things that farmers do.

She said, “I think there are fantastic opportunities in food and farming. Coming from healthcare, you can see how important the diet is and how as farmers we can help by showing people what good food we produce in this country”.

Cultivation and drilling approach

Hannah is fully committed to direct drilling and increasing use of the technique. Some land after potatoes and sugar beet has needed remedial cultivations, following wet harvesting conditions in 2019 but results have been mixed.

Rotation

The rotation is unchanged but up for debate at the moment. More spring barley may be grown to help with black-grass control. Rye and triticale may also be considered as part of future rotations.

Biggest agronomic challenges

Black-grass is a traditional problem weed but wild oats are becoming more of an issue. Hannah intends to send samples of both wild oats and black-grass for laboratory testing, to see how much herbicide resistance is present.

What do they most value about Real Results?

Hannah describes Real Results as “brilliant”. Last year was her first year testing for septoria resistance. She values the “additional bits” such as entry to YEN, disciplined discussion with others and proper analysis carried out by ADAS.