On the 28th March, LEAF, alongside contacts from the Penwith Landscape Partnership and local farmers came together to celebrate the end of the Penwith Farming Futures Project, which culminated in the launch of Varfell Farms as a LEAF Demonstration Farm. Varfell joins LEAF’s network of 40 other demonstration farms, who work together to promote an Integrated Farm Management approach to deliver more sustainable farming practices.
The day started with presentations from Vicky Robinson, LEAF Technical Director, and Victoria Hole, PLP Programme Manager, who gave an overview of the PLP and the work of LEAF. Simon Gardner, Farms Director at Varfell, then gave a detailed introduction to the business, explaining how over the last 5 years they have transformed their farming system in order to protect soils and reduce runoff into local water courses. A 10-year rotation, cover crops, minimum tillage and green covers are all now implemented as part of the farms approach to preventing soil erosion.
The first stop on the farm tour was the bulb sterilisation facilities, where Simon explained how the farm now uses hot water sterilisation to clean bulbs, rather than relying on chemical drenches. The farm yard also has a bio-bed, ensuring any runoff from sprayer machinery is safely captured and degraded.
Next the group visited the packing facilities, where the business annually processes and stores 65% of the world’s daffodils, and over one million stems of agapanthus and peonies. Access was also granted to Varfell’s controlled environment room, where hundreds of commercial daffodil varieties are meticulously monitored to ensure quality and maximum shelf life. Next, the group visited new worker housing, a radical upgrade undertaken since 2018 to consolidate accommodation on site and part of a comprehensive programme to improve worker welfare and related productivity. With the busiest months being through the darkest days of winter, the provision of transport, free laundry, good water pressure, hi-vis clothing, Wi-Fi and a clean, pleasant living environment has proved a crucial strategy at Varfell for attracting and retaining valuable workers in a time where the sector as a whole has struggled with this vital resource.
Guests then hopped into minibuses and were transported up to some of Varfell’s land which looks down onto the glorious St Michael's Mount. Here, Simon showed the group how allowing natural flora to grow between daffodil rows has reduced runoff and conserved moisture at dry times of year. Grass tracks around field edges and tracks have also been sown to reduce damage to soils from tractors and protect local roads from becoming covered in mud.
Finally, the group came together with Councillor Jim McKenna, independent councillor for Penzance Promenade, to plant a tree which will act as a legacy of the PLP’s work. Jim, who is also chair of the PLP, congratulated Simon and the team on their efforts to create a more resilient and sustainable farming system and their achievement of becoming a LEAF Demonstration Farm. The event marked the end of LEAF’s involvement in the Penwith Farming Future’s project, but also the beginning of a great legacy of the PLP, with Varfell hopefully acting as a future hub for promoting more sustainable agriculture both locally and nationally.