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Farming’s future: solar energy

A solar project to power a vertical farm is the latest diversification scheme for family-run Littlebrook Farm in Warwickshire.

A solar project to power a vertical farm is the latest diversification scheme for family-run Littlebrook Farm in Warwickshire.

Dominic David Richard Barrs

At the 800-acre Littlebrook Farm at Ansley in rural Warwickshire, the Barrs family (pictured) is starting a new journey into renewables that will power the next diversification project, and a whole new type of farming.

Starting life as a small dairy farm, Littlebrook underwent its first diversification in the 1980s. Faced by one of UK farming’s toughest periods, the family knew they had to either invest in more dairy, or diversify.

The family chose to expand operations to become a mixed-use farm. More livestock were introduced, together with vegetables and cereals, including potato, oilseed rape, barley and wheat.

Four decades later, more diversification is underway – the local council has approved the family’s planning application for the creation of a 60-acre solar farm with battery storage, and a solar-powered vertical farm.

Solar farmers

Cathie Barrs explains: “We’re really interested in renewables, science and nature, the science and technology behind solar power, and how it can support the agriculture side of our business.

“The journey began in 2019 with some research into the renewables and solar markets. We also analysed the farmland and identified an ideal plot for solar panels that is low grade agricultural ground and so not the best ground for growing cereals, but which is in the ideal position and direction for solar panels.”

Cathie, her husband David – who is the second generation to run Littlebrook Farm – and their son Richard, designed the scheme for the solar farm and battery storage on the site, which is on a piece of their land near to Corley Services on the M6.

“The aim is for this to support the agricultural side of the business and the planned vertical farm scheme. We can also sell the energy to nearby Corley Services and the National Grid.

“The project design begun just before Covid struck and lockdowns began,” Cathie says. “It then took two-and-a-half years for the planning application process, but we finally received planning permission for the whole scheme. It’s been pretty stressful and testing, but we’re delighted we can now
move things forward.

Sunshine on a rainy day

“We want to do what we can as a family to support the environment, lower our carbon footprint, and embrace the amazing technology of and benefits from renewable energy. Not only is this an exciting prospect and project, but renewable energy also makes financial sense with the steep hike in the cost of electricity

“We aim to use UK-manufactured recyclable solar panels, which have a lifespan of up to 40 years, when they can be recycled.”

Beyond farming

The Barrs family’s diversification is not restricted to Littlebrook Farm.

David and Cathie’s sons Richard and Dominic work with their father at the farm. Dominic also runs his own farming contractor business, and Richard an electrical and building business.

When first married, Cathie worked with David at the farm, but driven by her love of science, she undertook an Open University Science u/c Degree, and then a Dentistry Degree at the University of Birmingham.

Today Cathie is a full time dentist, and owns four dental practices in Warwickshire and Leicestershire,
with around 70 staff. Daughter Anna joined the practice as a partner after completing a law degree, taking care of the commercial side of the business.

Cathie is also Chair of the regional farming event The Filongley Show, and as part of her interest in environmental issues, is an active member of a team reintroducing trees and hedges to local village Ansley.

Next steps

Lodders’ John Rouse has supported Cathie and her family with estate planning, trusts and wills. He comments: “The whole Barrs family is driven and ambitious, successfully combining being part of a thriving farming enterprise with their own, separate businesses that are all quite different.

“They are passionate about protecting the environment and using renewable technology to achieve this, as well as great advocates of successful farm diversification, and how, with careful research, planning, and tenacity, renewables can be the foundation for future farming practices.”
Joining the renewables revolution?

Cathie and David want to share what they’ve learnt so far about renewables with other farmers: “We really want to support other farmers and rural businesses thinking about renewables,” Cathie says, “so it would be great to share what we have learned so far about the process to help with this including
identifying the ideal site for solar panels.”

To get in touch with Cathie and David Barrs, email Littlebrook Farms: sandabarrs@hotmail.co.uk

This feature first published in Issue 8 of our magazine, Lodders Life.

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