BY KATIE - MYGREENPOD, 27 Oct '17

The future of farming could depend on simpler practices inherited from the past

This article appears in the autumn issue of MyGreenPod.com Magazine, distributed with the Guardian on 27 October 2017. Click here to read the full digital issue online

If you look after nature, it will look after you.’ These were the words Richard Clothier’s grandmother used when she taught her family about the importance of sustainable farming.

The Clothiers have been farming and making award-winning Wyke Farms cheddar in the heart of Somerset for over 300 years. The cheese is still made in individual batches to Grandmother Ivy’s secret recipe, which is so special it’s locked in a safe on the farm.

Wyke is one of the UK’s largest independent cheese producers, and its success – which runs parallel to MD Richard’s passionate advocacy of a return to sustainable practices in modern agriculture – explodes the myth that industrialisation and intensification represent the future of profitable farming.

NOT ALL CHANGE IS FOR THE BETTER

‘At least500 million of the world’s estimated 570 million farms are managed by families’,Richard tells us. ‘But the farms still owned by families or individuals are becoming more like corporations. The demands of high production and a growing population mean labour-intensive tools were set aside for faster, energy-guzzling machines. Sustainability has somehow been forgotten.’

Remembering and nurturing a connection to the land is key for Richard, who wholeheartedly believes farmers have the power to change the world.

‘Thoughtful and simple sustainability measures, such as embracing natural fertilisers, processing waste through anaerobic digesters to reduce the carbon impact and feeding cows to minimise the production of methane would all make it possible to meet somewhere in the middle’, he says. ‘Simpler farming practices of the past can be used to meet the high demands of the future – ones that respect the environment and grow businesses for future generations.’

Click here to find out why Wyke Farms Extra Mature Cheddar is a MyGreenPod.com Hero

GREEN IS GOOD FOR BUSINESS

In 2012 Wyke launched a sustainability programme called ‘Wyke Farms 100% Green’, which challenged the team to run the business in a way that created a positive impact on the environment and community.

The company’s first step was to fit solar arrays to farm buildings and secure planning for a green biogas plant, powered by farmyard manure and dairy waste. Wyke Farms soon become a glowing pioneer of energy independence as it transitioned its operations to home-generated renewable power.

The farm has also been able to use a nitrogen-rich byproduct from the biogas plant as an organic fertiliser, ending any need for artificial chemical alternatives on the farm and elsewhere in the region.

In recognition of its successes, Wyke Farms was named Dairy Company of the Year – and Richard Personality of the Year – at 2013’s Food Manufacturing Excellence Awards.

Wyke Farms now upgrades the gas from its biogas plant so it can be sold to the National Grid as well as being used to run the cheesemaking operation and the farm. A water recovery plant has also been commissioned, allowing up to 90% of the cheese dairy’s wastewater to be reused. As a result, it’s the first cheddar company to achieve triple certification to the Carbon Trust Standard for improving environmental performance across carbon emissions, water use and waste.

SAVING THE WORLD

Over the last year, the family farm has spent another £3m on increasing the capacity of its anaerobic digester so it can process more waste from local companies, such as apple pomace from local cider mills, and turn it into gas for the farm and its customers.

‘Food and farming is still responsible for around a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gases’, Richard acknowledges. ‘Over the next 15 years we’ll see around a billion people across Asia entering the middle classes and consume more energy, meat and dairy. We have to use the natural assets on farms and our skills from the past to make these products in a way that respects the environment and also creates a positive impact. Farming can actually save the world.’