There is so much going on at Bruern and so many questions I've had from people genuinely interested in what we are doing. Below is a Q&A section that covers many aspects of what we do and why we do it.
If you are interested in our farm story, please click here.
Q: What farming methods and techniques do you favour using on the farm?
A: Officially, we are ‘conventional’ but there is nothing really conventional about what we do. We are not organic although we do practice some organic principles.
We are constantly looking to improve the environment while growing our produce. We are achieving better results by constantly pushing our techniques, thinking outside the box and attempting methods that are often centuries-old. The soil and larger eco-system here at Bruern is far more better for it.
Q: Do you use pesticides?
A: NO! we love bugs and insects and actively crreate habitats for them. For example, we’ve removed the need for pesticides through the use of wildflower margins in and around the fields that attract insect predators such as wasps, hover flies and lady birds."
We sow understoreys of clover and other crops that are great habitats for spiders, beetles and other wonderful insects. These understoreys also prevent top soil run off, cvapture carbon and provide much needed nitrogen for the crops.
Q: Do you practice regenerative farming?
A: In many ways, yes, although the term "regenerative farming" is becoming more and more appropriated by agri-business and retailers and we feel is being somewhat green-washed.
Some of the "regenerative" things we do include
min-till: a soil conservation system with minimum soil disturbance (as opposed to ploughing which destroys soil structure)
Livestock integration: putting sheep and cattle on over winter crops to help weed suppression; provide natural fertiliser and build soil organic matter.
Keeping fields covered with stubble and/or clover: retains water; stops soil erosion; store carbon; increases insect life; links to field margins and hedges
Robust hedgerows: to capture carbon; provide food and shelter for birds.
Direct drilling: which means minimum disturbance to the soil when drilling crops.
Q: Do you use inputs on your fields?
A: Yes we do to counter weed burden and disease. Weed burden is a fact of farming and there are two main ways to deal with it: ploughing or roundup. Through harrowing fields and smart rotations, we are able to keep our use of glyphosate to an absolute minimum and we never use it on crops. Modern varieties of wheat can be susceptible to disease and sometimes will require a fungicide. However, we have been successfully trialling different blends of crops in a single field as well as a variety of heritage wheats that have greater resistance to disease.
In short, low-input farming involves experimenting, figuring out how to cooperate with nature and how to benefit from the partnership - rather than concentrating on ways to overcome natural forces through chemical inputs.
Q: What produce do you grow at Bruern?
While predominantly arable we have a mixed farming system that includes saddleback pigs, English longhorn cattle and sheep. We grow a variety of crops including heritage grains, rye, wheat, barley, beans, buckwheat, sunflowers and pulses.
Q: What are heritage grains?
A: The heritage grain trust describes heritage grains as “…a variety of wheat, rye, barley and oats that were grown before the introduction of intensive, scientific plant breeding in the early 1900s. Our ancestors grew genetically-diverse ‘landrace’ crops that were adapted to poor soils and difficult growing conditions."
We have a research program at Bruern that is trialling over 500 varieties of ancient grains from around the world. As weather becomes more extreme and as conventional flour lacks nutrients and flavour, we are on a quest to find grains that can tolerate extreme weather but that also be used for baking.
Q: What happens to the food you grow?
A: A lot of the grain gets hauled away in large lorries either to be used for cattle feed or milling wheat. However, we are now milling our own grain and supplying bakeries throughout the Cotswolds and even as far away as London. In 2022, I helped set up the Cotswold Grain Network to connect farmers with consumers and help build an alternative grain economy and build a community that shares values around food, farming and the environment.
We malt our barley and collaborate with Chadlington Brewery to produce three delicious beers: Bruern Bitter; Bruern Gold and Bruern Larger. over 15 pubs are stocking our beer.
Our livestock are all sold through the farm shop and cafe, helping us reach our goal of supplying 100% of the food from our farm. (I think we are about 60% there at present).