Farm of the Week: Money comes through by taking care of wetlands

Tamara Hall is proof that farmers come in many styles.

She studied engineering at Leeds University because she thought it would be interesting, but decided to retrain and set up as a tailor in the city.

Then a riding accident left her convalescing back at the family home at Molescroft Grange, Beverley, where her grandparents and parents had invested profits from the fishing business in land.

Her father suggested she use the time to do an agrochemicals course at Bishop Burton, so she had a smattering of the language.

She loved it. And now, at 34, she runs Molescroft Farms, with three men and a fleet of machinery, looking after 1,250 acres of family land, in two holdings, plus 250 more under contract and some combining contracts.

She could do with a bit more, she says, to justify four full-timers and three harvest-time casuals and the kit, which includes a computerised micro-manager for fertiliser application. It also includes another little sign of the times – a digger she bought on eBay.

Her sister, Camilla, is married to former Olympic rider Gary Parsonage and they run a horse training business from the farmhouse and a couple of adjoining paddocks.

Mrs Hall married a York Racecourse accountant a year ago and lives with him, off the farm, but still works solo, under her maiden name.

Coming into the business six years ago, she started out with an interest in the environmental aspects. She took the farm through Entry Level to Higher Level Stewardship and got funding for a classroom and toilets to enable a school visits programme.

All this has got them short-listed for the Tye Trophy for good practice from the Yorkshire Agricultural Society – a qualifier for the national Silver Lapwings.

There are four other North East finalists and the winner will be announced at the Great Yorkshire Show on July 15.

Mrs Hall got funding for the toilets from Natural England. Other sources of possible funding are Yorkshire Forward and the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust.

She would quite like to get her hands dirty but is rarely required to. Her job is to manage the figures and the forms and the logistics and because of her background, the stewardship journey has not been much of a problem. The HLS is a bit easier than the ELS, if anything, because she gets a personal adviser and there is a bit of room for negotiation on how points are earned.

HLS payments start at 60 a hectare, compared with 30 for ELS. That goes up to 400 for leaving the site of a mediaeval village alone. Mostly, however, it is nowhere near the potential profit from a crop.

The costs of stewardship are hard to work out, because the administration is absorbed into general management but overall, Mrs Hall reckons it is cost-neutral.

She says. "You get headlands where you already have to leave so much space for tractor turns, and alongside watercourses and so on, it makes sense to take the grant and put your growing resources into bigger and better fields."

This is wet land and much depends on the efficacy of pumping from the Barmston Drain into the River Hull.

How much effort should go into maintaining that old system, and who should pay, are long-term arguments.

Meanwhile, the funding agencies like wetlands and Mrs Hall has handed over some of her wettest with relief – and now takes pleasure in just walking there, with her Bedlington/whippet companion, Bunty.

"You tend to remember the year this kind of land yielded well and forget the three when it was just awful," she comments. "If it was all good Wolds corn land I might think differently but stewardship works well for this farm."

Giving up any serious attempt to grow cash is not all loss, she points out. For example, five little grassland plots – left as larders for barn owls – can be cut for hay at the end of the summer and could then be grazed by sheep – so long as they are somebody else's sheep, she adds.

The farm used to run a few but she has done the sums and says: "It's only worth it if you look after them yourself, for nothing."

About a tenth of the farm is now fallow. The rest grows wheat as far as possible, with vining peas and winter beans and rape in the rotations, plus a bit of barley, and a promising new venture is "red wheat" for Hovis. The pea harvesting is all organised by a co-op which supplies Birds Eye.

The beans are mainly for fodder but some go to Egypt for human consumption as part of the international merry-go-round of modern agriculture. The rapeseed is a reliable seller.

As everywhere, the influences of Europe are being felt. A rape herbicide, necessary for control of charlock and runch, has been a bad loss and is forcing a reconsideration on growing rape at all in some fields. And new rules about mycotoxins mean that sending a consignment of wheat to go into bread or breakfast cereals is a risky venture which could end in rejection and a substantial loss on a lorryload.

"We are beginning to seriously consider if it is worth growing wheat for milling," says Mrs Hall.

There is just room for a new kind of question. Who are her favourite suppliers? She recommends goats-milk ice-cream from Lowna Dairies, which she buys at the Roberts & Speight deli in Beverley; the Kelleythorpe Farm Shop, Driffield, YO25 9DW; and the Side Oven Bakery, run by her aunt, at Carr House Farm, Foston, YO25 8BS.