John Seed and family hosted an excellent agri-renewables event earlier this week at their farm near Duns in Berwickshire. The main messages of the day were around rural resilience, local jobs and economy and reshaping farm energy needs. John aims to create a farming business that is as self-sufficient as it was when his family took on Woodend Farm in the 1930s.
Woodend Farming Business has been transformed in recent years, from a business with high bought-in energy inputs to one which is close to being self-sufficient in energy. In addition, rethinking the energy model of the farm has led to partnerships with other local businesses and the creation of four new jobs on the farm. Like most modern farms, Woodend (500 acres of arable in the eastern Borders) relied on energy intensive inputs such as chemical fertilisers, diesel fuel and heating oil. It also provided very little in the way of local, permanent jobs as most of the work could be done through contract arrangements. With the addition of a free-range egg unit and renewable energy infrastructure, including a biomass boiler, wind turbine and solar panels, the high input farming model has been completely reversed to one where inputs are low, four new jobs have been created on the farm and partnerships with local businesses have been created. The egg unit and ash from the biomass boiler provide free green manure for the arable side of the business. The addition of wild flower margins help with crop pest control. The biomass boiler, which can take either straw or wood whichever is most cost effective, runs a district heating scheme providing heat for the farmhouse, holiday cottages, chicken shed and an extensive drying floor. The dryer has drastically reduced grain drying costs and is also used to dry logs which are split and repackaged for domestic sale on the farm and sold through a local solid fuel stove supplier. The wind turbine and solar panels provide air-conditioning for the egg unit as well as electricity for the farm, including powering an electric vehicle, with the excess sold to the grid. John Seed has additionally set up a biomass boiler supply company, Topling, which is based in Duns and employs local plumbers and other trades.