Working with nature
Rapeseed has always been an important crop for us but until 2004 the seed went straight from the farm to processing for animal feed or low grade oils. Now it travels a short distance to our barns where it is stored until needed for pressing.
Bees love our borage and rapeseed crops. We grow borage close to our rapeseed crops to provide the bees with a longer flowering season. We work alongside a few beekeepers who keep more than 100 hives on the farm and in Spring 2016 we introduced 10 of our own beehives. It’s these hives that produce our delicious hillfarm honey.
In 2014 we made a pledge to ban the use of the three potentially harmful neonicotinoid chemicals in our seed treatments at Hillfarm.
Bees are important to us and we do take great care not to harm them in any way. In 2016, our commitment to save the bees was recognised by Friends of the Earth in their Bee Friendly Shopper’s Guide to Rapeseed Oil.
These are a protected species so we built five ponds which are in a known newt breeding area. The newts are counted each year and are nearly the biggest known population in Suffolk, if not England.
We leave our hedge cutting as late in the winter as we can so the wild birds can forage for berries and nuts through the cold winter months and build their nests undisturbed in the spring. We only cut 40% of our hedges each year, which helps to protect their habitats.
Hillfarm is proud to be part of the Red Tractor scheme which guarantees that any product with the logo has been farmed, produced and packed in the UK. It also means we stick to their standards for looking after the environment (to protect wildlife habitats and limit the use of pesticides) and focus on food safety and hygiene from harvesting our crops to pressing and bottling our oil products.
Farmers are hugely dependent on the weather which is why we’re notorious for always moaning about it! A wet summer leads to soil damage whilst we harvest our crops. This causes us more work, as we then have to try to repair the soil structure.
Hill Farm is sited on heavy clay soil. The soil is naturally maintained by worms and other organisms that increase the amount of air and water that gets into the earth and breaks down organic matter. We also cultivate to feed the soil and to put air back in as well. Farm machinery is large and heavy and can compact the soil which squashes out all the air. Our two large tractors and combine (our largest and heaviest piece of machinery on the farm) all have tracks on – this distributes the weight more evenly across the ground to reduce soil compaction.
The barn where we produce the oil is covered with solar panels which provides all the energy needed to run the pressing and bottling process and the offices as well – there’s even some spare to put into the National Grid.
Suffolk Carbon Charter
The Suffolk Carbon Charter is an award run jointly by Suffolk County Council and the Environment Agency that recognises carbon reduction measures in Suffolk’s businesses. In 2014 we were delighted to be awarded the Silver award for significantly reducing our carbon emissions.
The farm is becoming a hive of activity as the temperature warms and the days get longer. The first job is to get round all of the fields, feeding the crops with fertiliser to help them grow to their full potential. Have a look at this aerial video of the fertiliser spreading.
The rapeseed is beginning to grow. The stem elongates, and flower buds (broccoli heads) appear. By the end of April the familiar yellow rapeseed flower is out and we can see the flowering buds just starting to appear on the main stem.
The rapeseed is ready to harvest in July when the pods are brown and fragile. When the seed is dry enough with a 9% moisture level we begin harvesting, aiming to get as much done as we can before the rain comes.
After harvesting the seed the stalks are chopped into straw and left in the field. We cultivate this back into the soil to create organic matter to feed the soil and worms.
We leave the soil to rest and weeds to grow which, in turn, are cultivated back into the soil before drilling or planting our next crop. Drilling (planting) starts in mid August until the end of September enabling the crop to get established and healthy before the harsh winter weather sets in.
Our rapeseed crops are now in their winter dormancy and we won’t see further growth until Spring. While the crops are resting we’re extremely busy! Winter is a time for farm maintenance and getting things in good order; like hedge-cutting, mending fencing and improving drainage.
It is also when pigeon patrol takes hold. Pigeons are hungry due to the lack of food and cold weather. We don’t shoot them, but hang rope bangers in the nearby trees to move them on to protect the next year’s crop.
We move the the crops around the fields as different crops require different nutrients from the soil. Rotating them means the fields remain productive for longer, the soil stays healthier and pests and disease don’t build up.
At hillfarm our rotation is peas, wheat, barley, rapeseed, wheat, rapeseed, wheat. A small amount of maize (50 acres) for energy and borage (200 acres) for oil are also grown. Rapeseed is drilled after barley or wheat, starting 18th August until 1st September.