Will Best of Manor Farm in Dorset
"I see a future in which world agriculture is based on organic principles. It may not be fully organic as we understand it, but it will be scientifically sound and sustainable."
Alongside his wife Pam, Will Best has farmed the 200 acre Manor Farm in Dorset for over 40 years and has seen the growth of the organic market in that period first hand.
Can you give a short history of how you got to where you are now, including why and when you 'went organic'?
We started farming in 1970 and were turning away from intensive farming quite soon, but it took some time before we realised that organic farming was a possible viable option. We started conversion in 1983 and sold our first organic milling wheat in 1986. For ten years Manor Farm was the only commercial organic dairy farm in Dorset. In those days markets were totally undeveloped, so we did a lot of direct marketing, initially of lamb and pig meat and for a year or so of Manor Farm bread, but we concentrated increasingly on milk and cream with the development of Manor Farm Organic Milk Ltd.
Can you describe a typical day in your life?
I used to work all hours day and night, but I have to take it more quietly now. We sold the milk distribution business a few years ago, and then our sheep flock, but we still have the dairy herd, arable and a few pigs, and rear dairy heifers for sale, so there is always plenty for me to do; plus we put in a wood boiler for hot water and heating 18 months ago so I have a fair bit of logging to do.
Organic principles: why do they matter?
Soil is absolutely fundamental to life on earth. Looking after the soil, building fertility, enhancing soil biodiversity and recycling residues is vitally important. Twenty years ago only the organic people talked about these issues, while now they are being taken very seriously in mainstream farming.
What does the Soil Association mean to you?
The Soil Association has done a massive job in keeping organic principles in the public domain, and in encouraging the whole organic food system.
What is your greatest achievement?
Dismissing Harold Gimblett, famous old Somerset and England opening batsman, in a game at Street in 1968. (Actually he gave me his wicket when he got a bit tired because he was amused by my annoying his captain (CRM Atkinson, formerly of Somerset) by slogging 6s at the end of our innings).
What’s your vision for the future?
I see a future in which world agriculture is based on organic principles. It may not be fully organic as we understand it, but it will be scientifically sound and sustainable.
How can the organic market be improved?
I think that committed farmers are the best salespeople for organic food, so the closer the customers feel to the actual producers the better it is.
What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
Life has tried to teach me all sorts of things but I haven't been a very good learner. Here is one: shouting at people or animals is usually counterproductive. Here is another: if you can drive a tractor in a dead straight line you don't need GPS.
What organic ventures do you most admire – and why?
Lots, and not only farmers and growers: there are some really dedicated people running great ventures all along the organic food chain. Some of the retailers and wholesalers we used to sell to were excellent.
Who or what is your biggest inspiration?
My greatest farming inspiration was Dinah Williams who really was the patron saint of organic dairying.
What do you love most about what you do?
Being out in the natural world.
Supermarkets - good or bad?
Good when they are supplying good food at affordable prices. Bad when they are using their might to bully suppliers, planners and anyone else who is in their way.
What's the main benefit of ‘being organic’ for you?
Living in a beautiful environment and eating lovely food.
What keeps you awake at night?
What single thing would most improve your life?
What is your greatest fear?
That the badger fiasco will drag on and on. It is so blindingly obvious to me that the farming community should be entrusted with controlling the badger population humanely and sensibly just like we do deer and hares, that I get utterly frustrated that everybody can't see that too. If we go on like this TB in cattle (and badgers) will get worse and worse; more and more crops, pasture, earthworks and hedge banks will be dug up, ground nesting bird populations will continue to decline and there won't be any hedgehogs at all.
Any unusual hobbies or past careers?
My hobby is hedge laying. Unfortunately we are not in HLS (Higher Level Stewardship) so I don't get paid to do it, but if you do it well it is immensely satisfying. The one I did last winter gave me lots of firewood and some fencing stakes, some rails, bean sticks and even spar gads for our house thatching, and still left me with a really good green barrier.
What is your favourite meal?
Fried breakfast after a few hours work with really good coffee.
If I was Prime Minister I would...
Try to stick with the green agenda.
When were you happiest?
I am usually pretty happy.