18th July 2023
In this series about the region’s food producers and farmers, David Miller and Kate Baylis talk to Eve Laws from the Romsey office of the law firm Thrings
“I have learnt things about the soil and biology that I never even knew existed,” says David Miller, explaining how his farming methods have transformed over the past two decades.
David, farm manager at Wheatsheaf Farming, uses methods that work in harmony with nature – for example reducing the use of chemicals, fertilisers and direct drilling instead of cultivating the soil, all while closely monitoring soil quality.
This is now known as ‘regenerative farming’ – but when David begun investigating it in 2010 it was such a new concept, it didn’t even have a name.
“We were growing conventional crops in a very conventional way, and we were using more and more fertiliser and chemicals but getting the same yield,” he says.
“We just started to have a look at the biological side of the soil, and it began there. Now we have learned so much and I have a fantastic network of people in this country and abroad who are also striving to make regenerative farming work.”
Wheatsheaf Farming brings together Folly Farm at North Waltham, where David is based, with three neighbouring landowners who effectively joined their operations together to share costs, equipment and knowledge.
The co-operative produces crops including oilseed rape, malting barley, beans for cattle food, and traditional wheat. More recently it has become known for spelt – an ancient grain that remains unchanged for centuries, unlike modern wheat which has been intensively farmed and cross-bred.
Spelt is harvested and de-hulled before being milled off site, where most is sold wholesale, but some comes back to the farm, branded as Wheatsheaf, to be sold to artisan bakers and local farm shops. The flour brings a distinctive nutty flavour to bread, cakes and pastries – and David estimates this year’s crop of 26 hectares is enough to create up to 300,000 loaves.
One of the partners is Kate Baylis, who adds what David is too modest to say about himself – that he’s a respected practitioner of regenerative farming and has won awards for his innovation.
It’s this expertise that brings a steady stream of visits from farmers keen to learn. Folly Farm also hosts regular school visits, and holds an annual schools event with Hampshire Fare and the organisation LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming).
“We’ve got local groups that also come in, and we have regular farm walks – we’re very close to our neighbours and the community,” says Kate proudly,
“Even children at our local school don’t all know where their food comes from – they think it just appears in Sainsbury’s or Tesco’s!
“it’s very rewarding to teach them that you can produce food and look after the planet at the same time. You’ve just got to have the right mindset.”