Bo received the BBM Youth Support Award for Agriculture in 2017. His award trip to the UK formed part of his Advanced Diploma of Agribusiness Management at Lonergan College.
This is his report.
My trip to the UK was one of the best experiences of my life.
At the beginning, when I was applying for my visa and organising the trip I was starting to think it would be too hard to go ahead with it and I was worried that I would crumble at the airport or get lost when I got to a new country. Looking back now, I think getting around Melbourne and organising my visa was more difficult than any other part of my journey.
On the 20th of April, I left to the UK to conduct eight weeks of work placement as part of my Advanced Diploma of Agribusiness Management course at Longerenong College. The $8,000 award from BBM Youth Support covered all my flights, visa and preparation costs, which took a lot of stress out of my trip.
The following report contains what I learnt about the farm I worked on and how their business operates.
Location & Climate
Bawdsey is a small village located in Suffolk on the south-east coast of England against the North Sea. It has a very cold climate with average temperatures of 6 degrees in the winter and 19 in the summer. Annual rainfall will generally reach between 550-600mm per year which is similar to that of the Wimmera, where I am from. However, with such cold temperatures the land does not dry up quickly and the heavy clay soil can hold moisture for long periods of time.
Farming in this area is very cramped with small fields surrounded by brick homes and tiny sealed roads that make up small villages. Canals run through most properties, connecting to rivers and the ocean for land drainage. With these canals and reservoirs, farmers have the opportunity to irrigate their crops or supply irrigation on their leased fields on a contract.
Throughout my placement I worked around Bawsey for the Mann family and learnt a lot about different farming practices that were completely foreign to my previous experiences.
Chris Mann is a fourth generation farmer with three older brothers also farming. The brothers are split up with their own individual businesses. However, they communicate well and tend to contract or lease out to each other, assisting with provision of different resources at a standard rate. This particularly makes time more manageable while providing trust in their external operations as well as creating opportunities to compare business structures and learn from differences in their styles of management.
The most common crops to grow in the Suffolk area were wheat, barley and potatoes, followed by onions, carrots, turnips and several other vegetables.
Unlike at home in the Wimmera and Mallee in Australia, Bawdsey isn’t a great area for beef and lamb production. This is because land in this area is so valuable and most farmers would rather make the most of the good soil and irrigation advantage by planting cash crops rather than grazing their small fields. I also noticed that the local demand for lamb is definitely not as great as the Australian culture and I hardly saw any sheep or cattle throughout the whole of placement. However, pork seemed to boom with a few large free-range pig farms in the area.
Many of the cereal crops grown are planned specifically to make feed grade. Therefore the cereals are planted at high rates. Spring barley especially is a very important feed crop in the Bawdsey area and is used regularly throughout rotations to compete against the threatening blackgrass weed.
Rape is another common crop of the area, very similar to canola and is often sold to create butters and cooking substances. Another common oilseed is linseed which is usually sold to create furnishing oils.
Many farmers also use their land to grow turf. These turf fields are very high maintenance with mowing required two to three times a week and irrigation required once or twice a week. Turf can remain in a field for up to 14 months before it is thick enough to strip. In this process the turf is rolled up in sections and sold for lawn.
Game shooting is a popular and very expensive event in England, this is because is costs so much to prepare the game for the season. Part of the preparation sees farmers planting crops purely for birds such as pheasants to breed in leading up to the season. Kale is a popular crop that grows very thick and farmers are paid by the gamekeeper to breed their birds in the crop.
Anaerobic Digestion Plant
Close to Bawdsey there is an AD plantation. Many farmers in the area grow Maize or Rye which is foraged and sold to the AD plantation. This was all new to me so after picking brains and doing my own research, I learnt about how AD actually works. Anaerobic Digestion is the process of turning biomass into biogas, so basically if you imagine a cow that is put out onto green feed before it is weaned properly, it will have an acidosis type reaction in that it will blow up due to the amount of gas created in it’s stomach. The AD plant uses this concept to make a simulation of what happens in the stomach. The rye is fed to contained microbes which break it down in the presence of oxygen, releasing ‘biogas’ which is used to create electricity. Leftover waste can also be used as a sustainable fertiliser. Maize is the most efficient source of ‘fuel’ for this plantation as the microbes can break it down easier, it releases more gas and there is leftover waste compared to that of the breakdown of rye.
Enterprises that invest in community
Unlike the average farmer, Chris does not operate in any livestock industries. Instead, he invests in his local community.
Chris owns a self-propelled sprayer, a John Deere forager a spreader/Fendt tractor and a truck all funded on hire purchases in which he uses for contract work with his neighbors and brothers. He also owns two 1,100 tonne silo’s to store his brothers’ grain with his own at a fixed rate.
Wind turbine construction
Recently in the Suffolk area, the government have started production of a 30km line of wind turbines starting off-shore and running through several farm properties. These properties are leased out during the construction, leaving most farmers unhappy considering soil disturbance and the hold on their production. Chris however, has embraced the opportunity seeing it as a stable income and has reaped further benefits by using his equipment to assist with the operations for a solid wage and hopes to be able to use leftover materials such as lime.
Bawdsey is well known for its involvement with World War 2, hosting many structures and bases which are now used for tourist attractions. Some of the old structures have been purchased and turned into holiday houses by the ocean which people pay big money to stay in. Chris has invested in this enterprise by purchasing an old radio base that he is currently fixing up to rent out to tourists. The building is also in a key position by the ocean and next to a telecommunications museum where tourism activity is high.
He also owns several houses in the village that he rents out to locals for another source of income.
Chris is part owner of one of his brother’s contracting businesses ‘Mann potatoes’ who I worked for briefly in my time there. He also owns shares in the AD plantation that he sells to.
Some crops such as turf require high maintenance and equipment that Chris does not have, therefore if Chris decides to put these crops into the rotation he will lease the field out to another farmer. This provides another stable source of income. He also makes money by irrigating these fields for the farmer, where he is paid for the labour and water taken from his reservoir.
Jobs I did on the farm
De-stoning is the process of pulling a PTO driven machine (de-stoner) along an already prepared soil bed to prepare it for sowing. As the de-stoner is pulled along the bed, it digs 12ft beneath the top of the soil bed and feeds through the machine. As the soil moves through the machine, it filters through the bottom and falls back down on top of where it was just taken from and all the stones and clods are pushed up to the top of the machine and spat out the side between the soil beds. This effectively filters the stones from the soil. The planter then follows behind the de-stoner and sows potatoes into the fresh friable soil bed.
De-stoning took 4 of the 8 weeks of placement. Each field was around 10-30 hectares and took 1-3 days with 4 operating de-stoners, one ridger and two planters. The first couple of weeks was interesting as I learnt about the whole process but after that it started to get very boring as the de-stoners can only be towed at 0.5-3km/hr and it started to feel like a real drag.
For the remaining 4 weeks of placement, my job was to move 5-6 irrigators each morning and set them up. This process included driving out to the irrigator, turning off the hydrant, disconnecting the pipe and folding up the irrigator before moving it. After moving the irrigator I would then hook up a line of pipes from the hydrant, line up the irrigator, pull out the sprinkler across the field and then go to the next irrigator. After they are all set up I would then turn on the pump to power all irrigators. This process would then be done all over again in the afternoon.
I liked talking to Chris and discussing different climate and farming variables between our farms and learning the ropes of potato farming. I loved the culture – apart from drinking hot beer -, getting to know the family and exploring the area. I also enjoyed the challenges, including driving machinery on such small roads and remembering where each of their many fields were and how to get to each of them.
In conclusion, my trip to the UK was once of the best experiences of my life. At the beginning when I was applying for my visa and organising the trip I was beginning to think it would be too hard to go ahead with it and I was worried that I would crumble at the airport or get lost when I got to a new country. Looking back now, I think getting around Melbourne and organising my visa was more difficult than any other part of my journey. Moving through the airports was a lot easier than I ever imagined. When I arrived in London I had no idea how I was going to get to the farm so I just went to the train station and asked. The assistant gave me easy instructions and after taking 4 trains that linked up easily to where I was working, I realised that I had been worried about nothing the whole time and I felt like I could do anything. Massive confidence booster.
After completing my work placement I felt like I had learnt a lot about not only the different types of farming practices in a different climate, but I also felt I started to understand more about the climate and practices at home. This is because I would talk to Chris all the time about the differences between his farm and ours and as I compared our lifestyles and climates, I would think with more depth as to why we do things the way we do and how much our climate actually limits our production at home. If I could do it all over again, the only thing I would change is taking less stuff with me. Apart from that there is nothing I would change. This is because I was well prepared and I got all of my documentation and preparation done early. If I was to recommend this type of trip, I would suggest that the person prepares months in advance and I would advise not to worry at all about travelling because it is a lot easier than it seems. As for me I will be travelling to Canada next year to do it all over again. Such a great experience.Update Your Details