Nothing is wasted on Stephen Temple’s North Norfolk farm. He has achieved the almost complete circle of success in generating energy. Even his cars and most of the farm machinery are powered by electricity made from cow poo.
Stephen hates waste and cares about his carbon footprint. Generating electricity is only one part of his sustainable farming. He has been following a ‘green’ agenda before it became trendy.
In the 1970s he was working for the World Bank on a tea plantation in Malawi. The country’s rain forest was being destroyed as trees were used to fuel furnaces. Stephen found a way to save both energy and the forest.
But his life’s work is the contribution he has made with his wife Catherine at their Copys Green Farm in Wighton near Wells-next-the-Sea.
His attention to detail in all aspects of farming and his drive to achieve sustainability through continuous change is an example of profitable farming which is kind to the world and our environment.
He provides an example which the world’s politicians gathering in Glasgow for the UN Climate Change Conference UK 2021 would do well to hear and note. The 26th UN conference, known as Cop 26, runs from November 1 to November 12.
Stephen and Catherine share their ‘green’ passion and ideas with other farmers at farm open days, spreading the word as the sustainable farming evolution continues at his own farm.
His next project could see him using seaweed to feed his cows. Feeding cattle with seaweed educes the emissions of planet-heating gases as the animals have fewer burps and less flatulence. It is one step Stephen is considering as a viable long-term change to help his green agenda.
Dr Stephen Temple, an engineer, took over the 500-acre dairy farm, at a time when farming was not making money. He and his wife sought novel ways of diversifying to create income. Catherine drew on her childhood cheese-making experiences to invent Binham Blue which became a ‘must eat’ cheese in Norfolk.
She now makes a range of award-winning cheeses which sell country-wide. Stephen installed an anaerobic digester to produce energy and hot water from the whey - creating carbon-neutral Norfolk cheese.
They now make more than 30 tonnes of cheese a year and the whey is an integral part of generating electricity which powers the digester, four houses, the office and workshop, vehicles, cheese-making, hot water for the dairy, and grain drying. Three quarters of the electricity generated is fed back into the grid.
The virtuous circle of farming sees crops such as lucerne, beans, maize, and barley feed the cattle and create milk for cheese-making which creates whey for the digester. The cows create slurry for the digester too. The digester creates electricity, heat and power and a nutrient-rich fertiliser in solid and liquid form for the land. The output from the farm is electricity, seed barley for brewing, cheese, fresh milk sales and dairy breeding stock and beef calves.
The farm, in the family since 1912, has won many national awards for sustainable agriculture and its cheese made from the milk of their 90 milking Brown Swiss cows.
And innovation continues to reduce the farm's carbon footprint. Changing the cattle’s diet to reduce methane output, selling the farm’s plough to follow a zero-till policy which reduces energy use and improves soil conservation are just two ways. He has also introduced regenerative farming methods to encourage plants, bacteria and fungi to work together to improve the soil structure and lock in carbon. These are some of the methods Stephen and Catherine have introduced. New ideas are explored in a relentless pursuit to improve sustainability.
Gradual and continuous change is the key to sustainable dairy farming. Technology and employing new methods are just one part of the whole approach which demands attention to detail on every aspect of the farming operation.
The breed of cattle has been changed from Holstein Friesian to Brown Swiss, a breed which is more fertile and less susceptible to infection. Calves are born all year round. Cheese-making typically uses a third of the farm's daily milk yield.
Attention to detail even goes to eliminating disposable wipes in the milking parlour, buying animal feed in bulk to save on plastic sacks and no longer wrapping bales in plastic for silage by using a silage bunker while turning to square-baled straw with string rather than round bales covered in plastic net.
Stephen and Catherine have proved the old adage ‘where there’s muck there’s brass’ to be absolutely true by following their belief in sustainable farming.