Kent farmer who farms 768ha appointed new Monitor Farm host

Will Smith farms with his father, brother and one other employee at Beaute Farm near Canterbury
Will Smith farms with his father, brother and one other employee at Beaute Farm near Canterbury

A Kent farmer who farms 768 hectares close to Britain’s east coast is the newest host appointed for AHDB's Monitor Farm network.

Trying new methods, techniques and a desire to take on challenges lay behind a Will Smith's decision to join the network as Canterbury Monitor Farm.

“This is an interesting time for agriculture,” said Will. “As farmers, we have to contend with the loss of actives, replacement of the basic payment scheme, as well as broader issues such as the ongoing political uncertainty.

“We can either choose to bury our heads in the sand or see them as challenges to be overcome.”

Describing himself as an innovative grower, Will is a practising agronomist and contract farmer.

He knew he wanted to work in agriculture from an early age, growing up on his family farm in Beaute, near Canterbury.

Farming 768 hectares, of which 678 is arable cropping, he grows a diverse range of crops, including milling wheat, oilseed rape, beans and maize.

Beaute Farm also features a beef and sheep enterprise, as well as a straw and hay business.

Located close to Britain’s east coast, the farm spans chalk loam soils, brick earth and heavy clay.

'Improve direct drilling'

Will is currently aiming for minimal soil disturbance through direct drilling. He uses specialist equipment to drill directly into a variety of crop aftermaths and mulches including his cover crops.

He added: “I really want to improve direct drilling and see if what we’ve been doing is both viable and profitable. I’d like to be able to integrate this with our nitrogen use. I’m interested in learning more about nitrogen fixation in wheat.”

When it comes to rotational strategy, Will exercises a degree of flexibility, preferring to choose different options depending on the year.

Previously, oilseed rape and wheat featured heavily. The farm’s location in a low rainfall area meant that the former gave the best margins.

From 2015 onwards, Will branched out due to declining yields and a worsening blackgrass problem to include a mixture of autumn and spring crops over a four-or-five-year rotation.

Beaute Farm replaces the Sittingbourne Monitor Farm from June 20, 2019. It joins Freefolk Farms, near Basingstoke, and Moor Farm, in Petworth, as the cereals and oilseeds Monitor Farms in AHDB’s South East region of the UK.

Part of the Farm Excellence programme, Monitor Farms bring together groups of farmers interested in improving their businesses by sharing best practice around a nationwide network of host farms.