Courteenhall Farms is a progressive arable operation. We specialise in producing combinable arable. Cereals, oilseeds and pulses are the main crops featuring in our rotation. These cereals are predominately used for making bread, biscuits and animal feed, whilst the oilseed rape is used for cooking and biodiesel production and the pulses are mostly for human consumption. Crop by-products such as straw are used for bedding and animal feed.
Recently we have reintroduced a herd of Traditional Hereford Cattle to the parkland at Courteenhall. The parkland was grazed by cattle for hundreds of years, but had only been grazed by sheep for the last 25 years. In light of this, Courteenhall Farms has recently begun reintroducing hardy native breeds back to the parkland and other grazing areas, including the original population of Traditional Herefords, which were kept and shown at Courteenhall for three generations.
We work hard to build sustainable practices across our farming activities. This ranges from our investment in cutting-edge technology to support our sustainable farming techniques, to our dedication to soil health. Some of our methods for doing this are listed below:
Tillage is the movement of soil to prepare a good seed bed. It covers anything from ploughing or harrowing to digging or raking. Although tillage initially makes it easier for a seed to grow, it is a process that releases carbon from the soil and erodes the soil’s integrity over time. It also costs carbon and money in the tractor that is doing the process.
By minimising the tillage to where it is only absolutely necessary in our heavy clay-based soils we promote long-term soil health and sequester carbon.
Cover crops are short-term crops that farmers sow to benefit the soil and the crops that follow, rather than to be harvested in their own right. Usually, they are sown after harvest and are used to prevent the soil from being left uncovered until a commercial crop is established.
Bare soil leads to the topsoil being washed or blown away over time. Other benefits of cover crops are that they give good rooting structure, which improves the soil’s ability to cope with water. They also provide a natural source of nitrogen fertiliser and are a non-chemical way of suppressing weeds with their canopy (by shading out).
If this sounds like an obvious thing to do, the catch is that cover crops can cost quite a lot of money. However, at Courteenhall, we believe that the payback is there in the ways they improve our soils and the benefit that this provides to the next crop.
At Courteenhall we work very hard to minimise the use of any chemical inputs. Our stewardship crops naturally encourage beneficial predatory insects that eat many of the crop pests. Wherever possible, weeds are dealt with mechanically or by shading from established crops.
Artificial nitrogen has enabled large yield increases in arable farming since it was first created. However, it has a surprisingly big carbon cost, a negative effect on the soil and can pollute water courses. That is why Courteenhall has long used natural fertiliser in the form of animal and human waste product and continues to choose this over artificial nitrogen wherever possible. We also grow clover alongside our crops in some fields to convert atmospheric nitrogen into a plant-usable form, so further reducing artificial nitrogen fertiliser use and improving soil fertility and structure.
We are also proud to be part of the Tove Valley Farm Cluster, a collective of local farmers in South Northamptonshire who work together in order to go beyond the environmental stewardship schemes they are in and achieve greatness in environmental custodianship of the land they manage and love on a landscape scale. These aspirations include, but are not limited to, conserving farmland birds, wild pollinators and improving water quality.