Farm of the Week: The young couple rewilding and selling their own produce on the Methley Estate

Josh Wright said he always knew he would be involved in farming.

Josh Wright and Luke Andrew farm pigs and arable crops on the Methley Estate

As a boy he had helped his grandfather Edward at Willow Grove Farm on Methley Estate, between Leeds and Wakefield, and when he was offered the opportunity to run the farm with his partner Luke Andrew, he didn’t think twice, leaving his job at a feed mill to follow his passion.

“I worked at the mill for nine years,” Josh said.

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“I started there when I was at college and making the animal feed was interesting work, no two days were the same.”

Josh has taken on the tenancy his grandfather once held

But when he was offered the tenancy in 2018, Josh said his decision to return to where he had grown up was based on acquiring greater acreage.

“I spent most of my childhood pretty much living my life down here helping grandad with everything. When the estate approached me to take on the tenancy I said I would farm it, but that I would need more land to make it viable.

“I’d studied renewable energies and sustainable land management at college for my honours degree and have always been keen on making farming work both for the environment and as a business.”

Josh’s grandfather, primarily a pig farmer, had worked on only 30 acres and Josh said he knew he needed greater scope for sustainability.

Josh and Luke have begun selling their own produce and hope to open a farm shop

Methley Estate initially offered Josh and Luke 100 acres of arable land, followed by a further 20 acres a year later, plus 110 acres of grassland.

The couple’s farming mix now combines pigs with cereal crops and baling hay predominantly for the equine market, but Josh said it is farming that respects the environment.

“We are in the higher level stewardship scheme and I am a big believer in environmentally friendly farming right across our land.

“We farm up to the confluence of the rivers Aire and Calder in the far southern end of the Calder Valley. This part of the farm floods regularly.”

Josh said they use six-metre strips in every field to break up monoculture and improve insect life and the habitat for wildlife.

“I’ve always been interested in nature and bird watching. We are only just getting started and this is still all relatively new to us but we already have a really good mix of wild birds from barn owls to lapwings, buzzards, goldfinches and bullfinches. We have hundreds of skylarks.”

Cereals grown on what Josh describes as easy working, sandy loam soil include winter feed wheat variety Graham that averages around four tonnes per acre, winter barley variety Orwell and spring barley Carat.

“Our soil is full of goodness which really helps the crops. We save a bit of the wheat and all of the winter barley for the pigs, everything else is sold through the merchants.

“We have one new crop going in this year, spring beans.”

Josh said that hay is set to play a larger part in the farm’s income in 2021.

“We made 2,000 small square bales last year, finding a market in the equine sector and this year we hope to make around four times as many.

“We’ve also found another expanding area in supplying kilo bags for the small animal market.”

But, just as it had been for his grandfather, the pig herd forms the bedrock of Josh’s operation at Willow Grove Farm and he said he follows his grandad’s ethos when it comes to his herd of 50 sows.

“My grandad always said if a sow was still productive, why get rid of her just because she has reached a certain age?

“We tend to keep ours for around eight or nine litters. They average twelve piglets per litter and produce two litters a year.”

A change Josh and Luke have made is in the breed of sows they use, which Josh said has made for a far more enjoyable farming experience.

“We have JSR sows that are really calm, docile animals with a lovely temperament. We moved to farrowing them loose and our sow lameness has come down really well. It has improved sow welfare and they are fitter as a result.”

Josh and Luke work together on the farm and started on their latest venture in November last year.

“My grandparents Edward and Jacki always sold eggs from the farm using an honesty box,” Josh said.

“We had a farm shop in mind as a diversification idea, selling our own fresh produce and in November, Luke said he was going to make some scones.

“We started selling the scones and some of our own pork, very soon we had to set up a bigger stall.”

Luke added some brownies and said from then on the oven has never been switched off.

The shop is now open at weekends and run from a marquee next to the farmhouse with plans to expand.

“We were so pleased with the reaction we received from people wanting to buy local produce,” Josh said.

“Luke is responsible for all the baking and running the shop, while I get involved on the butchery side.”

They are also in the process of converting a steel container to create the new farm shop premises.

“Everything we sell apart from the vegetables is produced here at Willow Grove and we have just started offering what we call The Willow Basket where customers can pre-order and pick it up at the weekend.”

With inclusivity an issue which has come to the forefront of agriculture over recent years, Josh said it was an issue he was in favour of.

“I’m all for inclusivity in agriculture. Farming is very traditional and it’s sometimes hard for people when I say Luke is my other half.

“But when we’re at Selby Mart there’s no animosity, we’re just Josh and Luke.”