Net Zero

Net Zero Carbon Champions – Ingram Valley Farm

Our new series, Net Zero Carbon Champions, is shining the light on business leaders across all industries who are committing their companies to bold and ambitious sustainability targets.  Founder and CEO of Planet Mark Steve Malkin recently sat down with Ross Wilson of Ingram Valley Farm to find out about their net zero journey.

Words:
Charlotte Cameron
Images:
George Catchpole
Zero Carbon Tour Ingram Valley Farm
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CEOs and company executives around the world are recognising the critical role that businesses play in addressing the climate crisis in this Decade of Action. 

Our new series, Net Zero Carbon Champions, is shining the light on business leaders across all industries who are committing their companies to bold and ambitious sustainability targets. Founder and CEO of Planet Mark Steve Malkin will be discussing the journey to net zero with leaders across all industries, providing helpful and tangible advice to other organisations who want to know where to start. 

We’re kicking off with hearing from Ross Wilson of Ingram Valley Farm, a Planet Mark certified farm in Northumberland’s Cheviot Hills, that is leading the way in sustainable farming. Ingram’s commitment to sustainable produce and local farming is combined with continuous improvement in carbon reduction through measures such as reduced fuel usage and transitioning to electric vehicles. 

The farm has also adopted an out-wintering system for their cattle. “We defer grass in the summer to let the cows graze on the hill in the winter which enables us to reduce our machinery use in the sheds.” Ross Wilson explained. 

Ingram Valley Farm Zero Carbon Tour

Ingram Valley Farm are one of many organisations, across a range of industries, who have made the net zero carbon commitment, pledging to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2030. 

Through signing up on the Planet Mark pledge wall, Ingram Valley have joined the UN-backed Race to Zero and Together for Our Planet campaigns, joining a wide range of governments, businesses, cities, regions, and universities around the world that are committed to achieving net zero carbon emissions. 

In 2021, the Zero Carbon Tour, which engaged with over 8,000 people in 45 towns and cities in the UK sharing the net zero message, visited Ingram Valley Farm to experience first-hand the carbon reduction measures they have adopted. You can watch some of the highlights from the visit here. 

Ingram Valley Farm Carbon Battle Bus

As leaders in the industry, Ingram Valley were recently asked for their views on the governments plans to rewilding land or abandoning intensive farming for wildlife friendly land management. 

Ross Wilson was recently featured in Channel 4 to discuss government plans to restore natural habitats. “We’re a growing population and to have food produced in our country to the highest welfare and environmental standards is the key to moving forward.” Ross commented.  

As part of the government’s Landscape Recovery scheme, farmers will be paid to re-wild their land, aiming to restore up to 300,000 hectares of wildlife habitat by 2042. 

You can listen back here. 

You can watch the full Zero Carbon Champions video here and see the transcript below.

Net Zero Carbon Champions transcript

Steve Malkin
Hi there welcome to Zero Carbon Champions, the Planet Mark’s video of amazing interviews with amazing people helping their organisations be more sustainable, radically cut carbon and indeed go to zero carbon. And today we’re delighted to have with us, or with me and sharing with you, Ross Wilson from Ingram Valley Farm. I’m also going to tell us a bit about that in a moment. You’re in Northumberland, and Ingram Valley is the very, very first farm in the world to be certified to the Planet Mark so we’re so, so delighted to be working together with you Ross and Rebecca and your dad. So, kick us off Ross, tell us a bit about you, Ingram Valley Farm and where are you on your sustainability journey.  

 

Ross Wilson
Hi Steve. Well thank you very much for that, I’m Ross Wilson from Ingram Valley Farm, a farm up in Northumberland with my wife Rebecca and my dad John. We got involved with the Planet Mark through my wife about two years ago now and it just seemed a good natural fit for our business. We’re an upland livestock farm, very extensive organic and a lot of permanent pasture and we’re a scheduled monument as well and we felt that the goals of the Planet Mark were the same goals that was what we’re looking to do sustainability-wise in terms of reducing our emissions and being kind to the environment, which I think we are but it’s been a really good journey so far. We’re enjoying the challenges that we’re faced with in terms of making an effort to reduce our carbon footprint and increase our biodiversity on the farm, looking after the benefit of this environment and also for the benefit of our business. 

 

Steve Malkin
Thanks Ross and it’s a pleasure working with you guys and just being involved from a wider sustainability perspective. What role do you think farms play generally in helping tackle sustainability issues, be it climate change, carbon reduction through biodiversity and protecting ecosystems? 

 

Ross Wilson
Well I think farms are going to be the very heart of sustainability going forward. They’re key to the future because of the land mass it takes up and I think upland farms such as ours, grassland farms, have got a really big part to play. By grazing our grasslands and urban pastures we’re not only helping to sequester carbon with the permanent pasture but also with having the livestock grazing in the hills we’re reducing the dome, the organic matter, the insect life for the birds and increasing the population of breeding waders for example in our hill, as well as providing a local source of food.  

It’s really the carbon story that we find quite interesting and we’re working with Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) on a test and trial. I’ve actually looked at some of our carbon levels in the soil and on our permanent pastures, they’re huge, 248 tonnes per hectare of stored organic carbon. That’s on the hill land. On our ploughed land it’s slightly less at 70 tonnes, but we’re still really pleased with what we’re doing. I say the key to it is having an extensive outdoor-based open system.  I think I’m probably getting a bit of depth in terms of talking about numbers, but I really think it’s an exciting future for us in farming because we’re effectively sequestering the carbon that is produced. 

 

Steve Malkin
I think that actually this level of detail is really what’s needed and the numbers to support it and the story behind those numbers, so perhaps you can elaborate a little bit. It’s really interesting that the amount of carbon stored on the upland is 240 tonnes per hectare and 70 on the ploughed areas. 

 

Ross Wilson
We did some soil samples with Agrovista that very recently came through in the last few days. It’s been a real eye-opener for us to see the organic carbon stock on the hill land is 248 tonnes on the lower permanent pasture it’s 100 tonnes a hectare, and on a field of spring barley which is recently ploughed it’s 60. So, it goes to show that having a permanent pasture in the uplands is really key for the carbon sequestration, for the environmental benefits. We’re trying still to analyse the data and see how it fits in going forward and how farms can play that part. We’re obviously facing a world of reduced subsidies and the margins for upland farms are going to be very tight without support. The market doesn’t necessarily provide the funding in the product. So, if we can look to get involved in the carbon side of it and sequestration, I think it’s a really important role to play. 

 

Steve Malkin
Well sequestration is a part of the net zero carbon plan, but tell us a bit about the farm and what you think is the biggest impact that you have done in terms of a practical measure? It sounds like it might be that survey actually, but what are your thoughts? 

 

Ross Wilson
The survey’s been huge, but I think it’s only the telling us what’s already there. Some of the biggest practical steps we’ve done is reducing our fuel use, and my wife’s driven that. We’re now driving two electric cars, we’ve reduced our tractors from four to one and reducing our horsepower and motorbikes. We still have to have a petrol quadbike because the electric one’s aren’t quite there yet for our hill. Also, the way we manage our livestock, we’re looking to move towards a more rotationally grazed system whereby we rest, graze and recover the land as opposed to set stocking. It’s still near the early stages of that, but we’ve seen certain benefits. We’ve also moved to an out-wintering system for our cattle, so we defer grass in the summer to let the cows graze on the hill in the winter which enables us to reduce our machinery use in the sheds. So, it’s almost turning back time in certain respects and seeing what the land can support and fitting your livestock around the land. Our farm, and not every farm is the same, lends itself to this out-wintering system whereby we can reduce costs and inputs and help the farm. So, it helped the bottom line as well. 

 

Steve Malkin
There are so many things that you mentioned that you’re doing you, is that a challenge? Is there a single biggest challenge? Was the challenge running all of those concurrent projects? 

 

Ross Wilson
The challenges, I suppose, is going to be running these projects profitably. We’ve seen benefits in the last five or six years of what we’ve done from an inside cubicle-based system producing slurry, which we couldn’t get an allowance, so we’ve taken that out and everything’s outside now. So, some of it has eased up labour requirements, but we can’t run the highest stocking rates because we’re organic at the minute. We have reduced our need for fertilizer on the farm, but we have to be very careful with what we stop and we’re not too heavy. We can be susceptible to hard winters, the springs and the summers and the winters and the autumns are they’re key to how we survive as a business. Challenges like a year like this where we went straight from winter to summer in June was a real challenge and some of the cost to the business was huge, but we’re trying to have resilience to the business so we can get through this. 

 

Steve Malkin
There’s opportunity here isn’t there as well? So, you’re looking at running a series of projects to create a more sustainable farm. It’s challenging, but you’re doing it for a reason. What do you think the benefits are? What do you get out of it? 

 

Ross Wilson
Well, the farmer’s perspective, certainly by going to greener technology – such electricity is reducing fuel costs. We’ve slashed our fuel costs on the farm. 

 

Steve Malkin
Have you got a percentage on that? How much have you saved? 

 

Ross Wilson
Well just for example, on our car alone we might have spent £350 a month in fuel and we’ve got that down to about £30, £40 a month in electricity. That’s just one vehicle so we see that’s quite a saving. We used to have four tractors, well now that’s one, so there’s only one machine depreciating, one machine to ensure, tax and fuel, but you have to be very critical with your management of your livestock to enable you to manage with one tractor. By having everything in the sheds we would need a telehandler or feeder machine, a better machine with much more input. We have to rely on the out-wintering and taking the stock to where the feed is, rather than taking the feed to where the stock is. In that way we’ve managed to save time and effort and on a gross margin basis where I doubled that which is which is good but we’re going to need to do that and some to replace some of the direct payments which are disappearing from farming businesses. 

 

Steve Malkin
We see sustainability is about this balance between economic, environmental and social impacts and getting those properly in balance. You’re living and breathing this Ross and Rebecca and your dad John, but what’s your one piece of advice for somebody who might be earlier on the journey than you? 

 

Ross Wilson
My one bit of advice would be go with your gut with it. Look at where you want to be, your goals. Don’t try and do everything at once and just take it step by step. Try something and if it works carry on. If it doesn’t try something else. Don’t be afraid to fail and don’t be put off by others saying it can’t be done. Just have a go and take inspiration from like-minded people who’ve succeeded in doing things. I’ve taken advice from certain farmers who I look up to and respect and I’ve seen them go ahead and prove that things can be done. Enjoy it and want to do it, that’ll be my one bit of advice. 

 

Steve Malkin
That’s advice for life generally isn’t it really, I’m fully subscribed to that. Now there’s always a tricky question at the end which is, we can see how you’re cutting carbon, we can see how you’ve switch to EVs, but we’re all heading in a direction where we’re only trying to avert the worst effects of climate change. We’re trying to create something better, aren’t we? Do you have a vision that you could share about what does better look like? 

 

Ross Wilson
Better to me looks like living in a more local way. I think better for me looks like living in a community, you source your food and your water from your local community. You buy your local meat from the hills, you buy your vegetables from the local farmers. You go back to almost seasonality and it’s a very hard thing in this world where we’ve gone to a very much consumer-driven culture that wants everything at once, but I think that’s having a very negative effect on the planet. I think going back to locality seasonality and just supporting local is really important and I think if everyone did that in areas across the country, the government got on board and really enabled us to do that, the infrastructure’s not just in place yet but doing that I think would have a huge effect on the benefit in our area and the planet as a whole. 

 

Steve Malkin
And it’s huge mental benefit as well isn’t there as well you know about that sort of local connection with nature too maybe as well. I know these sessions are really short, they’re punchy. I know we could talk for many many more hours, I think what we might ask you to do if it’s okay is to maybe just jot down some notes for us one day and share with us that findings if you’re happy to do that. Thanks ever so much for being one of our zero carbon champions we really appreciate your time today and to everybody listening, tune in again, there’ll be more to come and there’ll be more information here. From the great work up at Ingram Valley, Ross thanks ever so much.