In 1986, His Royal Highness Prince Charles decided to convert his own farm in Gloucestershire to an organic farming system. Over twenty-five years later, the Duchy Home Farm is not only a successful and viable working farm, but also serves as an exemplar for sustainable agriculture more widely. It is a mixed farm, producing a wide range of food including milk, beef, lamb, mutton, pork, wheat, barley, oats, rye, mustard as well as fruit and vegetables.
The farm is used for demonstration and research is visited by over 1,000 people each year. The farm hosts an annual Food and Farming Summer School, attended by people from farming, business, research, government and non-governmental sectors, to address some of the challenges of sustainable food production. The farm has featured in special editions of the BBC rural affairs programme Country File, and Country Life magazine.
The farm is run in a way that protects and enhances nature’s capital. All farm production results in a range of environmental and social impacts. The positive benefits, often not accounted for in an organic farming system, include:
• Greater biodiversity: most of the land is farmed in rotation producing a range of crops and livestock. The estate has over 300 acres of species-rich permanent pasture with over 80 different plant species in some fields. This encourages a wide range of insects, birds and other wildlife. Heritage varieties of cereals, apples and vegetables as well as rare-breed livestock are kept to preserve genetic diversity and therefore food security.
• Food security: working within closed cycles and reducing dependency on imported feed and fertilizer helps reduce our reliance on unsustainable fossil fuels and market volatility.
• Healthy living soil: this is a key part of nature’s capital and underpins organic agriculture. Management practices are focused on protecting and enhancing the living part of the soil. Traditional crop rotation uses legumes such as clover to take nitrogen from the air and hold it in the soil for the benefit of the following crops. Animal manure from winter-housed cattle is composted and spread back on the land recycling vital nutrients and promoting healthy soil.
• High standards of animal welfare: all livestock are kept in ways that allow them to express their natural traits; pigs and sheep live outside all year round; dairy and beef cattle are at pasture for at least six months of the year and housed during the winter when they are fed silage and hay-based diets. Keeping animals less intensively promotes health and reduces the need for medication.
• The Prince has planted 26 kilometres of hedges and thousands of trees around Highgrove and Home Farm and, in 2013 a Jubilee woodland, providing a valuable habitat for plants and wildlife.
• An array of solar panels on the roof of the dairy generates renewable electricity – about 80,000 kWh each year, saving about 40 tonnes of carbon emissions.
• A bore hole at Home Farm is used to obtain water directly from the source, bypassing the water treatment plants and distribution network.
The Prince also grows fruit and vegetables in his gardens, reducing food miles to food metres. These gardens are also managed on an organic basis. No artificial pesticides are used, reducing the amount of potentially harmful chemicals that can get into the air, groundwater or food. No artificial fertilizers are used – these consume significant quantities of energy and water in their production and are responsible for large amounts of greenhouse gases.
The Prince uses the garden at Highgrove as a conservation area for endangered varieties of plants, flowers and trees. Over 70 heritage varieties of apples are grown in the garden at Highgrove and around 200kg of crab-apples are picked each year to produce crab-apple jelly for the Highgrove Shop. There are over 120 grass and wildflower species in the wildflower meadow and 111 species and varieties of lichen were recently identified on the Highgrove Estate. Over 70 varieties of vegetables are annually grown in the kitchen garden for use in the house; these include modern disease resistant varieties and old heritage varieties.