L – R: Ben Binder, David Kench.
Farm Manager: Ben Binder
Ben Binder’s Bio:
Ben joined Sentry in 1996 as part of the Trainee Farm Manager Scheme. He worked in the North East, Lincolnshire, and Wiltshire before his present role in Kent for 20 years. Ben grew up on a mixed farm in Yorkshire, attended Harper Adams University and then attained Facts and Basis soon after.
Interested in skiing, Formula 1, rugby, and any engineering/fabrication challenge involving wood or metal!
4 miles South West of Faversham in Kent.
610/ha of arable land (the Estate itself is in access of 1100/ha). Contract Farming Agreement with a wider role on the Estate. Large Countryside Stewardship Scheme (HLS and ELS).
Recently had a Collaboration Agreement with a neighbouring farm that was highly successful until the Owner’s recent retirement.
1 full time employee plus seasonal casuals. David Kench.
Silty Clay Loam to Silty Sandy Loam all over Chalk. Varying degrees of stone ranging from just enough for good drainage and structure to machine and tyre wrecking in minutes!
Soil Management Strategy:
“Silt can be both your best friend and worst enemy. From a working perspective it dries out quickly and ‘caps’, but also becomes wet and unworkable equally as quickly. This means our working windows are short but productive. There are no water courses and no land drains.
We are slowly changing our drilling system to virtually no till (nothing ploughed in the last 3 years). This has obvious cost saving benefits but at the same time has increased our ability to control Rye Grass, increase soil health, structure, carbon, and organic matter levels.
Cover crops and livestock (stubble turnips) are part of the rotation where we can obtain a benefit and timeliness allows. We import 1000 tons of FYM from a local farm annually and rot it down for 18 months before we spread it.
Our biggest soil fertility issue is the high content of Calcium locking up phosphate. We have moved entirely away from ‘bagged phosphate’ into more organic products such as Fibrophos which has a slower release and variable rate spread. We are currently looking at LEAF applications and grain testing to check our strategy. We incorporate all crop debris.”
“This is our main driver! We have a historical Rye Grass problem on the farm which has varied in its severity over the years. We are currently undergoing NIAB and Agrovista grassweed trials at present, having used Syngenta and Bayer trials in the past. We still work closely with Bayer.
We have fallowed as much as 20% of the farm annually for the past 4 years. Some has been pure fallow, along with cover crops, spring crops and winter crops grown from an early stage of its development as a silage ley/fallow (no seed return but also makes excellent quality silage). The idea being that you encourage the Rye Grass, destroy it, cultivate, and repeat as many times as possible within the calendar year.
We do not deep cultivate, and results have been generally very good. Ploughing and deep cultivations simply bring up fresh seed, so the emphasis is on low or no disturbance and extremely shallow cultivations, no clods and extremely accurate attention to detail with herbicides.
The difference between Rye Grass and Black Grass is that Rye Grass will germinate for 365 days of the year given a chance. We have virtually no Black Grass.”
Future Farm Plans:
“I am not entirely sure where spring cropping is taking us in the new world of climate change, but we do need the diverse rotation in order to overcome grassweed issues. The livestock we recently introduced should help us to ‘grow organic matter’ and therefore resilience.
We will continue to fine tune our no till establishment to cover most eventualities we encounter, alongside progressing with our phosphate ‘lock up’. We understand more now than we did 2 years ago, but this will need further enhancement.”
- Increase the size of the Kent business.
- Increase the proportion of our non-farming income through diversification.
- Continue the large steps already taken with soil management and grassweed control to lose fallow as our main management method, although highly effective it is expensive to the business.
L – R: Robert Rouston, Steven Walker, Ed Dowler.
Assistant Farm Manager: Ed Dowler
Ed Dowler’s Bio:
Ed is originally from Lincolnshire and graduated from Harper Adams University in 2019 with a BSc (Hons) in Agriculture. Interests include cycling and football.
Following working and travelling in the Southern Hemisphere, he started full time as a Trainee Farm Manager and more recently became Assistant Manager.
Shepshed, Leicestershire. Farming is a radius of up to 15 miles.
830/ha of Contract Farming Agreements, Farm Business Tenancies and Contracting. Growing Cereals, Beans, Seed Potatoes, Pumpkins and Christmas Trees.
2 full time employees on farm plus seasonal casuals. Robert Rouston and Steven Walker. Business Manager/Director on farm part-time.
Heavy Clay through to Sandy Loam.
Soil Health Strategy:
“Recently, we have been working alongside Agrovista, composing a soil health plan to aid a transition from a traditional cultivation system which included a Simba Solo, to a direct drill system. We understand that this simply cannot be changed overnight and that our soils must be in a better condition.
Agrovista highlighted the importance of soil biology and special care should be taken to feed and multiply that biology. The farm has historically used straw for muck agreements in order to put back organic materials into the soil, however, the emphasis on building organic matter suggests that where possible, we should be chopping straw to maintain the C:N ratio. Where we have high C:N ratios, organic materials such as digestates could prove invaluable to feed the soil biology, but in practice this may prove challenging with a lack of digesters in our area.
Our future plans include increasing the use of carbon-based fertiliser, which specifically feeds soil biology. This has a multiplicity of benefits. Firstly, more biology will aid quicker breakdown of straw residues, a potential issue in scenarios of minimal or no tillage. Secondly, Sentry is actively aiming to reduce the carbon footprint of farms, therefore it would give us an opportunity to reduce our inorganic fertiliser inputs.”
“We are continuously looking for opportunities to diversify our business. Our main farmyard is located on a busy road and surrounded by largely populated towns such as Loughborough, Shepshed and Ashby, with Nottingham, Leicester, and Derby nearby. Our catchment area encompasses a large population.
The farm planted 25,000 Christmas Trees eight years ago, a mixture of traditional Norway Spruce and Nordmann Firs. Five plantations over five hectares were established on some of the poorer land in field corners. We sell these at our farmgate outlet, with customers returning year on year for the high-quality trees and friendly service.
This year we introduced “Pick Your Own Christmas Tree” days which proved to be a huge success. Interacting with the public is hugely important for both us and the Landowners – Sending out a positive message of the work we do to serve our surrounding communities.
2021 brings a new diversification opportunity to our farm, Pumpkins. This project will serve as an additional tool to engage with the public and utilise the farm’s prime location. “Pick Your Own Pumpkin” has become an increasingly popular event, more so in 2020 with it being a safe, outdoor activity for families to attend.
A Sentry managed farm in Suffolk have been successfully running “Pick Your Own Pumpkin” days for two years, so following a visit to see their Manager, I brought back ideas and a plan to set up our own pumpkin patch in Leicestershire. The first seeds will be planted in the coming weeks and we are all excited to see the pumpkins grow to fruition.”
Future Farm Plans:
“Our business objectives focus on improving our soil structure and biology alongside devising a crop plan that allows earlier autumn drilling to protect us against wet winters which we have suffered from the last two years. Both work in unison to sustainably get the most out of the land.”
- Continue to increase public engagement with the introduction of our pumpkin patch.
- Ensure attention to detail in every operation on a field-by-field basis to improve our overall efficiency.
- Complete an on-farm Carbon Net Zero audit to identify areas we can change to better our environmental and economic sustainability.
Farms Accountant: Sophie Fawcett
Sophie Fawcett’s Bio:
Sophie qualified as a Certified Chartered Accountant at a well-respected regional accountancy firm, gaining experience in many business sectors including Agriculture before joining Sentry in 2017 as Farms Accountant.
Since joining Sentry Sophie’s role has broadened and she is now a member of the Employee Owned (EO) Forum which acts as a sounding board for employee opinions, as well as promoting share ownership within the Company. 2021 has seen Sophie also being appointed as SIP trustee for the newly created tax efficient Share Incentive Plan as well as joining the Management Team.
Head Office Department:
Financial Support Services.
Bookkeeping, Payroll, VAT, Accounts, Budgets and Cashflow Forecasts.
The Accounts and Bookkeeping Team are made up of 8 Employees, 6 full time and two part time. Including two ACCA qualified Accountants and three AAT qualified Accounts Assistants. A majority of the team are shareholders.
What do you enjoy most about working in Agricultural Finance?
“In many sectors accountancy can often be repetitive, performing the same tasks month in, month out. This is certainly not the case in Agriculture. The financial pressures within Agriculture are vast, with many external uncontrollable factors such as weather, grain prices and subsidy withdrawal.
You have to take a hands-on approach to be one step ahead, making sure the farms within your care are equipped with the data, budgets and reports needed to mitigate risk. This may include altering the timing of crop sales, increasing overdraft facilities, reducing input costs or diversification projects.
There is no one size fits all approach in this industry, every farm is different and therefore so is the approach we take. The services we offer are completely tailored to each farm to meet their individual needs. This keeps my role stimulating as there is never a dull day and I enjoy building client relations and delivering the high level of service they have come to expect.”
What challenges does your department face and how do you overcome these?
“Our biggest challenge is efficiency. At a time when margins are being squeezed tighter, we have to make sure that our costs are kept to a minimum. The best way to do this is to ensure we are operating as a department at optimum efficiency. We achieve this by not being complacent. We are constantly evolving. The accounts department is completely unrecognisable from when I joined Sentry four years ago, we became a paperless office in 2018 which proved to be an imperative decision in hindsight allowing us to work effortlessly from home during the pandemic.
More recently we have invested in automatic invoice readers allowing us to further improve our efficiency. We are always looking at ways to make the best use of the technology available to us. Having an adaptable team that is keen to embrace changing practices is key.”
Agriculture as an industry is going through a great period of change, how has this affected your team and department?
“The whole team is aware of the broader issues facing our industry and are very sympathetic to the changes currently being experienced. As we work so closely with Sentry Farm Mangers and our wider clients, we frequently receive on the ground updates of the immediate and long-term challenges being faced.
As a support service it is our duty to be at the end of the phone to alleviate the pressures and make the famers long day a little shorter. Whether this is just to discuss current problems, run through different financial scenarios or contact suppliers on their behalf, we are happy to help where we can.
I think we are in a unique position being not only employees of Sentry, but also shareholders. This aligns us as a team to make sure we are all working to towards the same goals of achieving business growth and ultimately increasing profitability.”
Future Department Plans:
“I would love for our department to replicate the change and growth we’ve seen over the last four years during the next four years. I do not currently know what this will look like, but I do know we’re ready for it!”
- Implement a new budgeting software which is currently in the research stage, allowing us to further enhance the service we provide to our farms.
- Fully utilise the talent within our existing team and support those who are working to improve their knowledge of not only accountancy related topics, but wider farming matters too.