Overbury Enterprises is nestled in the Cotswold countryside of Gloucestershire and Worcestershire. Penelope Bossom’s family have lived at Overbury for almost 300 years; she took responsibility for the estate properties in 1998, and the farm two years later.
In 2016, the teams involved in the various parts of Overbury were brought together into the family partnership of Overbury Enterprises. Over the last few years, the farm has evolved into regenerative agriculture; the water and connectivity infrastructure has been updated with new pipework and full-fibre installation; the range and number of businesses working from its properties has increased; a children’s day nursery has been established; and Penelope’s daughter Rosanna has converted a farmhouse into a country retreat for social and business breaks.
Overbury Enterprises employs around 40 members of staff – many of whom have worked there for over 20 years – with roles that cover the farm, farm contracting, conservation, woodland, shoot, gardening, childcare, serviced holiday support, business space services, and building and joinery services.
In 2012, Overbury saw an opportunity to connect properties and businesses with full-fibre broadband dug across the farm. This was ahead of the fibre to the broadband cabinet upgrades, better suited for more densely populated areas.
“With precision farming, we had to install our own base station for farm machinery guidance (RTK). This is in addition to paying others for the same service, and due to the lack of interoperability and standards – farmers ensuring big business works together.
To get a connected countryside, I believe we need to look strategically at our problems and specify our technology needs for the future.
“Today, it is about full-fibre broadband for our homes and offices, mobile connectivity and navigation. For tomorrow we should be working with innovators, discussing the spectrum of networks to get the right ones. We will need to successfully monitor a wide range – electricity meters, security, soil and weather sensors, as well as things not yet used or invented. Putting in a SIM card is not the only answer.”
“If we don’t communicate our priorities before the technology is handed to us, we will never get the best solutions. Before we buy, we should work together to get appropriate standards and interoperability for rural areas.
“With masts and ducting, we should work with the service providers to find fairer and simpler ways of remuneration, perhaps relative to the fluctuating values of traffic. We need to be involved early in talking to the communications industry to solve local rural problems around signal and connectivity before money is spent on the wrong solutions.”
Overbury is an arable farm with sheep, and, since 2012, a LEAF-demonstration farm. It has been practicing regenerative agriculture techniques of cover crops and no-till since 2013, when Overbury’s Farm Manager, Jake Freestone, embarked on Nuffield scholarship with a focus on increasing wheat yields.
“The result of his study showed we could reduce costs and improve our soil health,” says Penelope.
“Pre 2004 ploughing total establishment costs were £169/ha. Our predicted budget was £72/ha. Seven years later we find ourselves with better soil, using even fewer inputs, and our current establishment costs are £48/ha.”
Looking ahead, Penelope says areas of focus include getting more organic matter into the soil, developing livestock, looking at the potential of partnerships and getting closer to customers.
Growing crops is not the only part of the farm’s future income, and to be profitable we will need to develop others
“In January 2021, we signed a higher-level scheme, our third stewardship agreement since 2000. Overbury is also working on other opportunities focused on carbon and biodiversity projects. “The more we understand how our natural assets can sequester carbon, the more complex and challenging we realise this is going to be to measure.”
Overbury’s overarching philosophy is to look at the long-term needs of the farm and consider future developments to ensure it remains viable in the future.
“Producing food and improving biodiversity, habitat and soil are exciting challenges, but they need to be balanced with the uncertainty that farmers face, which is that there are many things they are unable to influence.
“Though we always need to think about the long term, I don’t think we have much thinking time, and this highlights why big farms, small farms, scientists and agri-tech innovators should work together.”
Overbury is also home to Overbury Grasshoppers, a day nursery for children aged one to primary school age that provides outdoor and countryside experiences. The nursery, which also runs before and after-school clubs, complements the Overbury CoE First School, built by Penelope’s great, great grandfather Robert. Both nursery and school enjoy their visits to the farm and kitchen garden.
Early years and countryside education are the perfect combination
“The children have plenty of time to explore and discover things, and they are at the right age to absorb and understand more about the countryside and food. Our education projects benefit our teams too, as they really enjoy sharing their knowledge and passion.”
The team has hosted estate Countryside Learning days since 2002, and held many school visits around Overbury. Farm Manager Jake Freestone is also part of Farmer Time, an initiative wherein farmers link by video to a school classroom to discuss aspects of agriculture, answer questions and share ideas, with the aim of broadening understanding of the issues farmers face.
Rural Britain will need a huge range of skills in the future, and I feel it is up to all of us to get involved and share our passion with the next generation
“Children today benefit from experiences and understanding of the countryside, helping to shape their interests and provide a foundation for future careers. Rural jobs in the future will probably not share many resemblances with those of today, but curiosity with understanding and a love of the natural environment will be an advantage.”
Regenerative Farming Talk
Jake Freestone will be talking more about regenerative farming at the CLA’s Rural Business Conference in London.