Tim May is a 4th-generation farmer and Managing Director at Kingsclere Estates, a Holistically Managed farm on the border of Hampshire and Berkshire in the United Kingdom. He is passionate about the complexity and community necessary to run a profitable farm that offers an abundance of opportunities for many people to farm and make a living from the 2,500-acre estate.
Recently Tim was interviewed by BBC for rhe On Your Farm podcast and talked about his experience integrating Holistic Management concepts into the farm and how that training helped him to rethink how to farm.
Tim believes that a diverse and robust community is needed to grow his business and farm profitability. He received a Nuffield Scholarship in 2013 and learned about different aspects of sustainability and shifted his thinking from a reductionist approach to agriculture to one of opportunity. With that approach he has learned how to partner with nature and engage complexity rather than try to simplify farm practices. He realizes he needs help from people and enjoys mentoring and providing business opportunities to others, growing the potential in the biological and human communities in a circular economy.
Tim saw the future in the commodity approach to agriculture and could see even keeping up with 4% inflation was not going to happen with flat income and rising input costs. When he came across Holistic Management, he really began to explore enterprise stacking as a way to increase productivity and profitability from the same land base. To that end he has created farm share arrangements with two entrepreneurs who run a mobile milk parlor and an egg business. Both enterprises contribute to the soil health on the land which supports Tim’s efforts of value added cropping of organic gluten free oats, quinoa, heritage wheats, and linseed. Other enterprises include green burials, counseling, mountain bike racing, runners, clay pigeon shoots, and sheep grazing.
Tim uses a 4-year crop, 4-year grass rotation to build soil heath and reduce weed pressure. He uses practices like strip till as well as he sees his job includes turning sunlight into money and wants to use plant photosynthesis in the strips between the crops to pump nutrients into the soil, create symbiotic relationships, and capture carbon.
Ben Reynaldo runs The Pasture-Raised Egg Company, which includes mobile chicken houses that follow the dairy cattle. He sells his eggs through vending machines on the farm or local shops. Ben started with 25 chickens and is now up to 1,200 hens. Poultry works well for Ben as this enterprise is a part-time job. With this shared farming arrangement, Ben and Tim share the input costs and split sales. In this way they both have an interest in business and want to increase profitability.
Getting livestock back on the farm was important to Tim when he returned to the farm in 2004. He looked to people like Newman Turner who had developed these types of rotation because Tim knew that the advantage of chemicals was coming to an end and they needed to get the minerals from the soil with good soil management to make the farm profitable.
Oliver Chedgey runs The Roaming Dairy which has grown from 180 heifers in 2018 to 487 cows being milked once a day. Olly chose the once a day milking as he also has other work off of Kingsclere. Using traditional breeds they average about 3,500 liters/cow/year but with high milk solids. With the mobile parlor on a trailer and a generator they can move the parlor anywhere on the estate in 40 minutes and don’t have to muck out the parlor or transport the muck to the field since they are already there. With this farm share system, Olly has invested in the machinery and his time while Kingsclere provides the grass and they share the animals. They divide the milk check based on their owned percentage and operating costs. With this set up, Olly can move his business elsewhere if he wants to, which allows everyone some flexibility.
Tim is excited about attracting more businesses to partner on the farm and has developed a program called Pitch Up where people can pitch their ideas each November. The farm team is selective in their process and are hopeful that the next enterprise will be coming on soon and involved the foraging of herbal leys. He thinks there could be 20-30 share farming enterprises on this one farm because there are lots of opportunities for value added enterprises like leather and cheese as well as many different agri-tourism possibilities.
Click here, to read a more in depth article about Kingsclere’s farming practices.