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Public to take 12,000 gamble on future of working farm


Members of the public are being asked to take a 12,000 [1] gamble on the future of a real working farm as the first major decision of the MyFarm ( [2] experiment approaches.

The public will decide which type of seed to sow in a 37 acre (15.4 hectare) field the equivalent of 22 football pitches [3] – at the National Trust’s Wimpole Home Farm in Cambridgeshire [4].

At a time when a major drought is looming and global commodity prices are varying, Farm Manager Richard Morris is handing over a decision which could affect potential revenue by up to 12,000 and food production by as much as 90 tonnes.

The decision on whether to grow wheat, barley or oats [5] is part of an experiment to connect thousands of people with how food is produced by giving them a greater say in how a real working farm is run. So far nearly 2,000 people have signed up and are taking an active role in running the farm.

Richard Morris said: This seemingly simple decision on seed choice can have a major impact on the farm. Profit is of course a vital element for our Farmers to consider when making their decisions. It is linked to both crop yield and consumer demand. But, perhaps even more importantly, Farmers will need to think about which crop has the best opportunity for the highest yield. This is particularly relevant as this field will be at its peak in terms of fertility having just gone through the process of organic conversion. This presents a real opportunity to plant a high yielding crop to feed an ever growing population, giving us better food security.

To make an informed choice there is a whole series of questions that the MyFarm Farmers will need to work through from soil type, current seed prices, current and future predicted commodity prices, growing patterns and another key issue the weather, both here and abroad. These are all decisions faced by Farm Managers on a regular basis.

Success will then of course largely depend on what the weather then does over the crucial growing season after the seed is planted, and of course on consumer demand.

The Farmers will have six days to decide which seed to plant this autumn on the 1,200 acre organic farm. Once their votes have been cast and counted, the majority decision will be implemented on farm. There will then be a series of further decisions to be made with the Farmers involvement, before the crop is sown, grown and harvested over the coming months.

The vote whether to buy barley, oat or wheat seed has added complexity due to the recent spell of record-breaking dry weather which is already adversely affecting crops both here and abroad [6].

Provisional figures suggest that both East Anglia and the Midlands have had the driest October April since 1975/6 [7]. Moreover, with less than half an inch (10mm) of rain falling in Cambridgeshire since 1 March, wheat growers in East Anglia are reporting yield to be down 25 per cent on 2010 [8].

Five independent expert panellists from the National Farmers Union (NFU), Linking Environment and Farming (LEAF), Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), Savills Agribusiness and the Soil Association will be feeding their opinions into the debate on the MyFarm website.

Farming expert, Keith Preston, Director at Savills Agribusiness is an advisor on the MyFarm project and has been involved with Wimpole Home Farm for 11 years. He said: The exceptionally dry conditions have highlighted the impact of the weather on farm production. Farmers can control some of the key factors in crop production, for example the crop variety and cultivations, but the weather has the greatest impact on the yield and quality.

The 37 acre field to be sown with seed – Pond Field – has had three years fertility building from the grass clover leys and this provides the peak fertility point in the rotation cycle. The highest margin will be from a wheat crop. The National Trust, with their mill at Anglesey Abbey, has the opportunity to add value and produce milling wheat for conversion into flour and direct sales.

My vote is to sow milling wheat this autumn.

The chosen seed will be sown in October. It is purchased in advance to aid farm planning. The vote opened at 4.00pm Thursday 26 May. Farmers have until 4.00pm on Wednesday 1 June to cast their vote, with the results announced immediately on the MyFarm website.

To get involved and to have your say, visit

[1] Calculations below based on figures from The John Nix Farm Management Pocketbook (2011 edition):

High production level gross margin per hectare for highest yield crop = 783

Number of hectares = 15.4

Potential revenue = 12,058.20

High production level yield per hectare for highest yield crop = 9.75

Number of hectares = 15.4

Factor to adjust for organic production = 0.6

Potential food quantity = 90.1 tonnes

[2] The MyFarm experiment which launched on 4 May 2011, aims to connect thousands of people with how food is produced by giving them a greater say in how a real working farm is run.

Based at the National Trusts own working farm, Wimpole Home Farm in Cambridgeshire, Farm Manager Richard Morris will set monthly options for subscribers, who will debate and vote on one major issue each month around crops, livestock and wider impacts.

For their 30 subscription fee, Farmers will get a daily behind-the-scenes insight into how the 1,200 acre organic farm operates, the right to make decisions on the farm by voting regularly and a family ticket to visit the farm for a day.

The MyFarm website will include video updates, webcams, live webchats, debates and comment and opinion from both well known farming experts and National Trust tenant farmers.

[3] The average size of a premiership football pitch was 8414 square yards in 2008. This is equivalent to 1.7 acres. See

[4] Wimpole Home Farm is part of the Wimpole Estate. It is one of the National Trusts three farms that is managed directly by the charity. The other two are at Hafod-y-Llan in Snowdonia and Llanerchaeron in mid-Wales. Wimpole Home Farm is currently going through the process of organic conversion. The decisions subscribers will make will continue to take the farm down this route, but that is the only constraint on their input.

[5] Below is an overview of the pros and cons for planting each crop type.



  • Low risk option in almost every way.
  • Wont take as much fertility out of the soil as other options.
  • Relatively easy to grow and relatively reliable returns


  • Lowest financial return of the three
  • High fertility position of the soils at this stage of rotation are not suitable to grow quality malting barley so likely to be animal feed difficult to make an interesting end product



  • Potentially a niche opportunity to create an end product
  • Middling option in terms of fertility removed from soil so lower risk
  • Relatively easy to grow a premium quality product


  • Only a middling financial return as raw product with no value added
  • A niche crop in the UK so less of a ready market for the raw product



The most important global cereal crop so theres always a ready market.

  • High demand in terms of soil fertility makes it the traditional post-conversion choice.
  • Highest average yield and price of the three raw products


  • High fertility demand means high risk – high waste if get it wrong Commodity crop so difficult to create a strong added value product.

Point to note: One option that was considered, but wasnt offered as an option was rapeseed oil. As the farm is going through organic conversion, this crop presents certain difficulties because the seed is so small and when you harvest it at the end of the year, the seeds fall out of the harvester, and when you want to plant something else, rape grows along with it as a weed. As organic farmers cant use herbicides, they are then stuck with a mixed crop which is unmarketable.

[6] A poor harvest this year will result in consumers facing potential higher food bills in the next 12 months. See


[7] See

Recent Met Office figures suggest that spring is on course to be the hottest since records began 100 years ago and only 61 per cent of normal UK rainfall has fallen over the last three months

[8] The UK is not alone in dealing with difficult growing conditions. French wheat is forecast to be down 11.5 per cent while German output is like to be down 7.2 per cent. Planting has also been delayed in the US and Canada.

Food and Farming at the National Trust

  1. The National Trust believes in using quality, local, seasonal and sustainableIt matters that we know where our food comes from, how the crops were grown and that animals are properly cared for.
  2. The National Trust helps and encourages farmers to manage their farms to high environmental, animal welfare and food safetyWe work with our farmers to help them add value to the food they produce and to get a better return.
  3. The National Trust is the largest non-governmental landowner in Britain, owning approximately 250,000 hectares of land across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. More than 80 per cent of the Trust’s land is farmed or is dependent upon farming for its management.
  4. Seven per cent of farms on National Trust land are registered as organic, including the award winning Coleshill Organics in Oxfordshire (3 awards in the 2004 Organic Food Awards) and Low Sizergh Farm in Cumbria (Best Dairy Farm in the 2006 Organic Food Awards). This compares to a national average of four per cent.
  5. The National Trust has a team of Farming & Countryside Advisers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland who provide support and information for tenant farmers on Trust land – for example, working on Whole Farm Plans which focus on a sustainable future for the farm.
  6. The Trust’s cooks and catering teams look first to their property or estate for produce, and then to their county, theirand from around the UK.

The National Trust

The National Trust is one of the most important nature conservation charities in Europe. The Trust is involved in the whole food chain, with 200,000 hectares of food producing land, over 150 restaurants and tearooms, and historic kitchen gardens, orchards and mills. The charity has community growing spaces from allotments to kitchen gardens at over 50 locations around the country and is increasing these annually. These spaces inspire the Trusts 3.8 million members, 60,000 volunteers and visitorsto think and learn about food. The National Trust is creating 1,000 new allotment plots on its land in the next three years to give local communities the space to grow their own fruit and vegetables. Find out more at:

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