Posted June, 24th, 2024


BASE-UK members enjoyed a varied and informative farm walk in Suffolk in late May, thanks to James Bucher and his team at Hall Farm, Knettishall. 

Before heading out, James explained that having called time on sugar beet and intensive vegetable production on the light land farm back in 2021, he took the decision to be more in control of soil health by growing crops that could be harvested in the summer. 

At the same time, he also chose to adopt a regenerative approach and with the help of Ben Taylor-Davies – otherwise known as Regen Ben – he has been able to stop using fungicides, insecticides and PGRs, while nitrogen use on cereals crops has come down to 60-70kg/ha of N.

This year, every crop on the farm is being grown with a companion, after last year’s beans/oats mix proved successful. In addition, catch or cover crops are used wherever possible, while soil biology is fed with composts and drenches, made on the farm. 

Margins are up, yields are down, reported James. “The SFI has been fantastic for us, even though we will have three separate agreements to get the most from it. “We are already able to tap into payments for cover crops, companion crops, legume fallows and zero insecticide use – now the most recent announcement means that the no-till, summer cover crop and agroforestry actions are also relevant.” 

He has seen more wildlife, especially birds, on the farm since changing and moving away from intensive cultivations, with life coming back into the soils with the addition of organic matter and the reduction in soil movement. 

A local bakery, Woosters, having attended a community farm walk, was so impressed by the farm’s environmental credentials that it now buys some wheat from the farm, using it to make a sell-out loaf called Knettishall Wild. 

In such a difficult year, grass weed control was a common discussion point as the farm walk unfolded, with James commenting that this year’s very wet conditions seemed to have prevented the winter cereal crops from competing as effectively as usual. 

“We are seeing much more brome this year,” he said.

Legume Fallow 

That was apparent in the first stop on the farm walk, where a NUM3 legume fallow is being grown on some very light/degraded land. Its purpose is to build fertility and let the land rest, before bringing it back into the rotation in 2027. 

Having been drilled last June when the soils were warm, it took very well and is well on its way to achieving the aims. “We will have to address controlling the brome in it at some stage,” he agreed.

Winter Wheat Blend 

The next stop was a field of winter wheat, being grown as a multi-blend of varieties using home-saved seed from last year. Drilled in early November with some vetch, which has since been sprayed off, the crop hasn’t received any fungicides or insecticides since. 

Two small applications of nitrogen and sulphur had been made, along with a foliar N spray containing a carbon source, taking the total N up to 60kg.

“We would normally graze our winter cereals with sheep but this crop didn’t grow that well over the winter, so we kept them off,” said James. 

A tailored nutrition programme is used, with sap analysis guiding decision-making and preventing any deficiencies. Last year’s winter wheat blend gave just under 7t/ha at the same level of input use, he recalled.


The third stop was to look at a field of Wildfarmed wheat, which had winter beans as the companion. 

A four-way blend which was drilled in November, it is destined for the supply chain initiative started by Andy Cato and is being grown in accordance with the Wildfarmed standards. 

His first attempt to produce for Wildfarmed, the organisation’s no pesticides policy suits James, but he is wondering if there will be a weed legacy. “It may be that the spring blend would be a better option for us, as we could use glyphosate pre-drilling and start with a clean sheet.”

Oilseed Rape 

The fourth stop was to look at a crop of oilseed rape, which was drilled in the second week of August with both white and berseem clover, as well as buckwheat. 

With the clover now reaching quite a height, the discussion centred around the best way to harvest the crop and whether swathing would be required. “It’s only our second year of growing oilseed rape on the farm,” commented James. “It’s the conventional variety Campus and it has received a total of 10kg of nitrogen.”


The final stop on the farm walk was to look at an agroforestry project, which has been developed with the support of the Woodland Trust. 

Eight rows of trees, planted in 4m flower margins at 24m intervals across the field, are a mix of hazel and other natives for short rotation coppice, as well as various fruit and nut trees. They are helping to change the landscape and support biodiversity, as well as provide resilience. 

Between the rows, a crop of oats and vetch is growing this year, with topping taking place to keep brome levels in check. Fencing funded by a Countryside Stewardship capital grant is being considered, to protect the young trees from deer. 

The eventual plan is for local farm shops to market the fruit, with Hodmedod’s taking the hazelnuts and walnuts. The farm has two woodchip boilers, so the ability to cut and leave timber, before chipping it, works well. Woodchip is also used to make the farm’s compost, which is fungally dominated. 

“It will be five years before coppicing starts,” revealed James.