George Hosford: Always adapting, always learning


Louise Stratton interviews George Hosford, Dorset NFU County Chair, and discusses poppies, worms and the excitement of school visits.

George Hosford’s break crop has fallen foul to politics. One of the main products from poppies is morphine, but this can no longer be exported, halving the financial return on the crop.

Our Dorset NFU County Chairman is George Hosford, in his second year of the two- year Chairman’s term and he is passionate about our farming industry and home-grown produce.
George farms in partnership with his brother on 800 hectares outside Blandford. The farm
is all rented from a private landlord and is made up of 650 hectares of arable land, 110 hectares of permanent pasture with the remainder being woodland and farm buildings. It’s a busy farm, employing several full-time members of staff to manage the mixed enterprise.
Within the arable land, the farm is always trying to maximise the area of wheat being grown. Therefore, the ‘break crop’ – a crop grown to interrupt the repeated sowing of cereals to prevent disease build up – is important to the rotation. George has some unusual break crops, growing spring beans, oil seed rape and even poppies.

Letting the sheep in

Oil seed rape, predominantly grown for edible vegetable oils, is recognised by its bright yellow flower. An insecticide was banned in the UK in 2013, which was the farmer’s way of protecting oil seed rape from
the cabbage stem flea beetle, which can decimate fields of the crop. Without the insecticide, farmers like George have very little control over the beetle attacks.
But this hasn’t put him off and one thing that is evident from conversations with George is that their farm is always challenging and experimenting with new production techniques. They now bring the sheep flock to the fields of oil seed rape in autumn. The sheep knock back the crop, eat weeds and remove the need for a fungicide as they eat the leaf material away, which would otherwise catch fungal spores floating around in the air, and reduces the leaf area for the beetle to land on. The sheep will reduce the crops yield, but you save on growing costs making it cheaper to make a margin. It is all about doing the sums.

Poppy politics

The poppies have historically been a success, but unfortunately, after 15 years of growing them, they have fallen foul to politics. One of the main products from the poppies has been morphine but this can no longer be exported. George, alongside other poppy growers, has been working to put pressure on the Home Office to grant poppy growers a licensing scheme, but so far this hasn’t materialised and without it, halves the return from the crop, so it isn’t financially viable anymore. The area will be replaced with more beans, increasing the protein crop production.

Leave the worms alone

The farm is in environmental land management schemes and herbal leys. These are a new addition to the farming system and George has added them to the rotation to improve the farm’s soil. Soil is an area George has become increasingly passionate about and as we talk you realise it has driven many of the changes in his farm management.
The biggest change has been the ‘retirement’ of the plough, last seen working on the farm in 2012! George has moved to a no- till drilling technique, shallowing up cultivations over the past ten years.
Many factors influenced this decision, but fundamentally George recognised that it was bad on the soil structure. The worm is an arable farmer’s unsung hero; they recycle organic matter and improve
soil structure as they burrow through soil. For George, as the plough turned the soil upside down once a year, it became maddening watching the waiting seagulls feed on half the worms in the soil. Now, by leaving the soil undisturbed whilst drilling the seeds for the next crop, the worms are left to work their magic.

Earthworms are an excellent indicator
of soil health; plough-based horticultural systems have been found to have the lowest worm populations

It is so enlightening to hear George talk about what drives him to continually improve his farming system;
he recognises over his farming career the industry’s change, and his change, in approach to farming. The environment has risen up the agenda for us all and on his farm it plays a key role in the decision-making process.

The farm also runs cattle and sheep; there are 55 beef cattle and two handsome bulls, a Red Angus and a Hereford. The farm hosts some of the river Stour valley water meadows and the cattle always ‘finish’ well on these lush pastures.

Farm, school

Alongside George’s desire to fine tune the farming detail, he has another passion that he confessed he drops everything to do. Hosting schools on his farm. With a farm in which all subjects can be taught (although there was a distinct lack of enthusiasm for covering the languages!) George feels strongly the benefits to opening children’s eyes to farming.

The visits are centred around food production and the environment. George sees that everyone has a connection with our industry by eating food every day and he hopes that he sparks some interest for the children to go away and question what is out there and what is being produced.

There is clearly a high level of satisfaction taken from these school visits and George is keen to encourage fellow farmers to take the plunge or encourage a school to get involved, not forgetting that in Dorset the County Show’s Fabulous Food & Farming | 1840 Education Fund has been set up to support schools with travel costs to a farm.

When I asked about the future of farming, there was real positivity: of course, the Government plays an important role in this period of change for our industry in shaping the surrounding policy, but there was a real positivity about the future from George, exploring ideas of branding and increased traceability for the farm business.

Alongside all George’s farming activities, he still finds time to scribe a monthly farming broadcast – View from the hill | Day to day life on a Dorset Farm – and I’d encourage you to hear directly from George what he’s up to, because for someone who is open to learning all the time, it makes for exciting times and reading!

by Louise StrattonNFU South West

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