Alexander Borthwick

Occupation

Farmer.

Address

Hoe Hill Farm, Lincolnshire.

Cropping

Winter wheat, spring wheat, winter barley, spring barley, OSR, sugar beet, potatoes.

About the farmer

Alexander did not necessarily always want to be a farmer and initially trained as an account’s technician, working on the farm whilst studying. He studied a degree course at Lincoln University, Riseholme College, in Agriculture and the Environment. Alexander then decided to stay on the farm and continue farming.

Alexander does all the agronomy on the farm and has sat just about all the BASIS exams. Alexander has a BASIS Diploma in Agronomy and has completed the Harper Adams graduate diploma in agronomy with environmental studies.

Alexander also does all the bookkeeping on the farm and looks after the accounts, so his initial training in accounts has helped with that.
His dad is the farm manager here and is the inspiration behind Alexander’s career in agriculture.

Alexander said, “I have worked on the farm, part-time at harvest time since I was 16 really so that’s 15 years now.”

About the farm

With regards to soils, Alexander said, “We have both heavy and light land on the farm and a variety of soil types. We are based on the Lincolnshire wold so we have some silty loam, silty clay loam and clay loam; however, the main area of the farm is calcareous loam.”

Soil health is very important to Alexander and regular soil analysis is undertaken every 3-4 years. He said, “We now do more full spectrum nutrient analysis, to get that bigger picture. We only take the cereal straw off the land, the rest is incorporated. Although we don’t use other organic manures, purely because of lack of access, we put a lot of Pand K on in the form of Fibrophos in order to build the indices as best we can. Because we are on chalk based soils, we regularly check pH and we would always take remedial action where we feel it is needed.”

Black-grass on the farm has been an issue, affecting approximately 70% of the farm. However, Alexander said, “We are getting on top of it now.  We have moved to more late drilling, stale seedbeds and using spring cropping and break crops to help as well.

However, I think the biggest thing we have done has been paying more attention to detail and taking on the agronomy myself. I know the land well and know which areas to target and have done more with the chemicals in the autumn as opposed to the spring.”

Sustainability is vital to Alexander; he is keen to make sure that the farm is profitable and productive but also that the land is looked after to the best of their ability. He said, “I want to continue progressing, getting as much of the potential out of the land as we can and certainly the vision for the future is sustainability, especially now, with Brexit on the horizon. Generally, we are quite happy with the system that we have so we are not looking for any radical changes.”

There is a good range of wildlife on the farm and Alexander said, “We have a lot of Brown hares which are quite scarce.”

Farming philosophy

Alexander said, “We see ourselves as custodians of the farm and we are looking to improve the condition of the land. In terms of handing on the land in a better condition blackgrass is a big thing. We are just trying to free the farm of black-grass, which sounds a lot easier than it actually is in reality, but we are getting there. If we can keep doing as we are, for the next 10 years, I do think that we will possibly send it home.”

Cultivation and drilling approach

Alexander has predominantly used a plough-based system, although more recently single pass cultivations have been successfully implemented on some lighter land. All drilling is completed using a Vaderstad drill.

Rotation

Alexander said, “In terms of rotation, it varies; we tend to have oilseed rape every four to five years. We do grow first and second wheats and we grow a lot of spring malting barley, on the light Lincolnshire wold land, which is on a two year rotation.”

The rotation is regularly under review due to increasing revocation of invaluable A.I’s. Sugar beet (Virus Yellows) and OSR (CSFB) are of particular concern but alternative break crops have their issues too.

Biggest agronomic challenges

“Where do we start? Loss of neonics, epoxiconazole, chlorothalonil, biscaya all bring individual challenges but collectively create issues around economic viability of crops and growing strategies. Black-grass is still a huge challenge and has the most immediate effect on the business and rotation.”

What do they most value about Real Results?

Being able to meet like-minded, forward thinking growers; the collaboration with BASF and ADAS and the investment made in to a ‘learning network’. He also likes how it allows the farm to review and assess current practices with a view of improving and allows the early adoption of new technology.