Farm funding under the spotlight at NFU event

11 May 2023

Farmer Martin Hole leading a farm walk in East Sussex

NFU members finding out about future farm support payments had the chance to see how existing funding is supporting conservation efforts on an East Sussex farm.

Ahead of a meeting on the sustainable farming incentive (SFI), host farmer Martin Hole led more than 30 farmers on a walk around his organic farm on the edge of the Pevensey Levels.

Montague Farm, all of which is in countryside stewardship, includes about 700 acres of organic permanent grassland and 30 acres of woodland. The farm has 550 Romney ewes, all lambs fattened off grass, and some 50 crossbred suckler cows, progeny also mainly fattened off grass.

The business is a family partnership, which Martin joined when he married Gundrada in 1994. Her parents John and Meryl Glessing bought the farm in 1942.

Martin explained how he was working to recreate wetlands by allowing half the land to flood in winter, creating wildfowl and wader habitat, nesting sites for ground dwellers such as lapwing and a range of herb rich meadows, reedbed and scrub.

East Sussex SFI walk and meeting

He showed the group freshly-dug ponds, wildlife corridors he was looking to link up with neighbouring farms and grass meadows featuring plants including green-winged orchids and adder’s tongue fern.

Martin described himself as a ‘baton holder in the great relay of generations’, hoping to pass the farm on to the next generation. He and Gundrada have three daughters and their youngest, Romney, works on the farm and runs the farm’s wedding venue.

He said he was farming with nature but trying to get premiums at each stage. The business is built on low-input agriculture with a high value premium to the livestock.

“This isn’t the decline of productive agriculture but the lively rumba of emerging ecology. We have tried to nourish the landscape here and to allow wildlife to flourish in it,” he said.

East Sussex SFI walk and meeting

His advice to farmers was: “Don’t get faddish. Do the right thing for your fields and your farming systems.”

After the walk, farmers packed into Martin’s farmhouse for the SFI meeting, chaired by NFU Vice President David Exwood and featuring NFU advisers Claire Robinson and Richard Wordsworth.

David stressed that SFI was a voluntary scheme and it was important for members to understand what was on offer and what it meant for their businesses.

“You don’t have to enter SFI if you don’t want to. Don’t chase the money – find out what works for you,” he said.

“This is a farming-focused scheme that sits alongside productive farming. It’s developed into a scheme with more options with more money, and sooner than planned. That’s the work that the NFU has done.”

The East Sussex SFI meeting was one of a series organised by the NFU across the South East. More information about the scheme, including how to apply, is available on the NFU’s website.

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