A fleet of Valtra tractors is helping a Cumbria-based farming business fight climate change by returning millions of tonnes of carbon underground.
Trading as Barker & Bland Ltd, Simon Bland and Jane Barker run their business from a traditional hill farm in the Lake District. Originally sheep farmers and faced with reducing profits from their 1,200-head flock, the couple diversified into peat-free compost production 25 years ago, and at the same time set up a contracting service specialising in peatland restoration. Now up to 50 staff are employed, including 17 which are full-time.
Sheep wool compost
“Bracken grows to six feet tall and smothers the grazing land,” explained Simon.
“It makes it very difficult to gather the sheep and although it’s generally regarded as a weed, using it as the main ingredient in our Dalefoot Composts has made it a profitable crop. We harvest 170ha of our own and buy in extra from farms across the UK. Additional ingredients include grass or comfrey, and sheep’s wool which retains moisture and slowly releases proteins.”
Barker & Bland’s peatland restoration division aims to re-wet and re-establish sphagnum and bog flora in areas drained in the past to improve grazing, or where peat was extracted. The restoration not only stops further carbon release, but also encourages carbon fixing. Many projects are government-funded, and the company’s teams operate their machinery throughout the UK. Their expertise is credited with returning more than one million tonnes of carbon to the ground over a 10-year period and the continuous carbon fixing process means that figure is increasing all the time.
Machinery is shared between the farm, Dalefoot Composts and the peatland restoration enterprise.
“We used one tractor brand for several years, but issues with poor dealer back-up meant we looked at alternatives,” added Simon.
“We considered several, but the contract-hire package from Valtra and our main dealer Johnston Tractors was exactly what we needed, so we now run five Valtras, and two of the previous brand.”
The Valtra fleet includes N174 and T174e models, all with Versu specification. The N174s are liked for their high power-to-weight ratio and superb manoeuvrability, while the larger 6-cylinder T174e tractors are favoured for work with heavier implements on steep slopes and transporting up to 500 bales per week between the company’s two farms.
“We like the Valtras,” confirmed Simon.
“Operators enjoy using them and appreciate the excellent comfort. The Versu specification is superb, with electronic push-button hydraulic controls which make it easy to quickly lift mowers clear if stones or other obstructions are noticed in the tall vegetation. Reduced machine damage more than justifies the Versu’s extra cost.”
Versu specification also includes GPS mapping and Valtra Guide auto-steer, improving productivity for tasks including mowing, and ensuring accuracy of fertiliser applications. Field maps also allow the positions of large stones and boulders in thick vegetation to be recorded, and peat beds to be mapped during restoration.
“We will double compost production next year, requiring additional tractors particularly for transport between our sites,” concluded Simon.
“Our positive experience of Valtra and Johnston Tractors means we won’t have to look elsewhere.”