The Farmer Teddy Maufe is a second-generation tenant farmer growing malting barley, wheat, oats, sugar beet, oil-seed rape and potatoes. The arable farm covers 1,100 acres of land in a truly beautiful part of Norfolk, just off the North coast. He lives in the farmhouse with his wife Sally and their four children.
Favourite jobs: “Seeing a year’s farming work come to fruition as the barley pours off the grain trailer into the barn.” And: “A fine spring day on the farm when all the crops have a fresh green hue full of hope.”
Least favourite jobs: “Clearing a blockage in the sugar beet harvester on my hands and knees in the mud with a cold November drizzle trickling down my back.” And: “Continually growing crops at break-even point or below.”
THE FARMBranthill Farm covers 1,100 acres of mainly light land on the Holkham Estate. Neighbouring Holkham Park has extensive woodland, so many of the farm’s fields have wonderful vista out to sea. Unlike some parts of Norfolk, the area is not flat, but has a gently rolling landscape of hills and valleys formed from the past ice ages.
Malting barley has been grown in the region since Shakespeare’s times. The light, sandy soil over chalk, combined with the coastal microclimate, makes it one of the best places on the planet for growing the crop. Winter malting barley goes for brewing fine ales, while the spring barley goes to produce whiskey. The wheat is sent to the feed mill up the road, and the conservation-grade oats are grown for Jordans cereals and crunch bars. The sugar beet is processed by British Sugar for the ‘Silver Spoon’ brand and the oil-seed rape provides an alternative-energy fuel. The potatoes are grown on Branthill Farm for crisps by Teddy’s neighbour. This mixture of crops provides a good varied rotation – vital for successful crops on the light land.
In addition, Branthill has several wood-copses across the farm – a legacy from the 19th-century marl pits. Marl is the chalk-like subsoil that was spread over the light topsoil to give it some ‘body’. These disused pits have been planted with trees to form special wildlife habitats. All the fields are around 30 acres in size and are surrounded by mature hedges. Tragically, the predominant hedgerow elm trees were lost to Dutch elm disease in the 1970s, so hardwood leaders are now being grown above the hedge-line to provide future ‘big’ trees.
The farm has a high population of hares, English and French partridges and other birds. Last season, three pairs of marsh harriers bred successfully, much to everyone’s satisfaction. In the winter, literally thousands of migrating pink footed geese eat on the harvested sugar beet tops during the day, retiring to the nearby salt marshes at dusk. Farming“Farming has taught me to respect nature and work in harmony with it. Over the years, I have learnt that patience really is a virtue during a ‘period of wet weather’.”
Since 1997, UK farming has been suffering from a huge depression, following many years of comparative prosperity. The pendulum has swung far too far in a negative direction now. It is soul destroying to nurture a crop over the farming year only to see it sold for a loss. And yet – and here’s the rub – know it will help make some big retailer a big profit. “The present Government has very laudable ambitions to increase the biodiversity of our countryside and generally raise environmental standards. The point they miss along the way is that if the core farming business is no longer profitable, how can we hope to deliver these ‘environmental goodies’. I sum this up by saying: ‘Bankrupt farmers make poor environmentalists.’ In the future, I believe that farmers, aided by de-coupled subsidy payments, will only put seed in the ground when there’s a viable contract to make it all worthwhile. At Branthill, we knew that we had to do something to keep the ship afloat, but were determined that any new venture must be linked in some way to our core business, farming.
“Observing how the great wine-producing countries of the world show and promote their produce to the public at source, this gave us the idea of doing the same thing with beer. So, after much work and effort, we opened a Real Ale Shop on the farm. Our malting barley is sold to nine Norfolk micro-brewers who produce bottle-conditioned real ale. By using the local floor maltings we can provide total traceability (one of the brewers even quotes the field grid reference on the bottle label). “The Real Ale Shop has been a great success and now stocks more than 40 different local ales, and helps to rejoin the public with British agriculture, but this venture alone is not the answer the farms’ deep-rooted problems.”