Moat Farm, Buckinghamshire.
Winter wheat, spring wheat, spring barley, OSR, spring beans, spring oats.
About the farmer
Antony is the third generation to run the family farm, which was established from scratch by his grandfather. He always knew he wanted to take on the farm and now with children of his own, is especially keen to secure its long-term future.
Despite strong farming roots, Antony had a varied education, having gained a Biology degree at Bath University in 1998 and then trained as an accountant. He has strong financial/ business acumen and was the driving force behind the establishment of the Joint Venture with a neighbouring farm. He recently retired as Chairman of the Joint Venture Farming Group (http://jvfg.co.uk/), responsible for benchmarking the performance of some 80,000 acres of arable land across the UK.
He has a keen interest in the technical aspects of farming as well as the business side, and is FACTS qualified and keen to take part in farm trials and share ideas with other farmers. He works closely with the Monitor Farms project and has carried out barley trials on the farm in the past.
Antony is the MD of Real IPM UK; an organisation set up by farmers to source and promote the use of biopesticides (see www.realipm.co.uk).
About the farm
The farm business is a Joint Venture with a neighbouring family farm, covering around 1,000ha of combinable crops, with another 200ha on a contract farming agreement. The area is fairly spread out, with a distance of 15 miles from one end to the other. It is predominantly heavy clay soil, although includes some lighter chalk land on the edge of the Chilterns.
Half the cropped area is down to wheat, with a range of varieties grown, focused on yield maximisation rather than chasing quality premiums. The rolling 10-year average yield is 9.25t/ha.
There has been a big move to direct drilling over the past decade, something initially driven by a desire to reduce costs. Being a heavy land farm we had a different cultivator for every eventuality, but then came across a system that seems to work in, most years. Autocasting is used for OSR establishment and a direct drill used for other crops for the past seven years. A small amount of surface cultivation (no deeper than 50mm) is done as part of the cultural black-grass control strategy. Black-grass is a struggle, but we are making progress.
Benefits to soil quality from the switch to direct drilling exceeded expectations and there is now around two weeks difference in the window available to travel on fields compared with neighbouring farms.
Precision farming technology is widely employed, with a move to reduced traffic lanes by using Greenstar GPS on all vehicles and RTK GPS on the main tractors. Variable rate P and K is applied, with variable rate drilling tried for the first time last autumn.
Moat Farm is on the route of HS2 and stands to lose some 145 acres from the home farm, which will significantly affect its viability. It is also home to an 800-bird premium bronze free-range Christmas turkey enterprise - Pearce Family Turkeys – which are sold directly to consumers via the website, www.farmgatetoplate.co.uk.
I would describe myself as a thinking farmer and describe my philosophy as collaborative. I firmly believe in the importance of collaboration in every aspect of the business, from close working with the agronomist and other staff members, to neighbouring farmers. I believe the best results can be achieved by collaboration between specialists in particular fields; something I put into practice on the farm.
I believe in mixed farming, not mixed farmers. All farmers need to specialise, but that doesn’t mean a combinable crop specialist can’t have beef on their farm; it simply means they need to get another specialist in, so both parties can benefit from the mixed farming approach.
While much effort has gone into reducing costs across the farm business, yield remains key and I am prepared to invest in crops to achieve this. Depending on yield potential, a three or four-spray fungicide programme is typically used each year. I am very conscious of the threats posed by fungicide resistance, so I restrict the use of SDHIs to once a year. I also try to plant high resistance rated varieties in order to maximise on genetic gains.
Cultivation and drilling approach
Farm now 100% direct drilling using Sky and Claydon drills, OSR broadcast, cover crops broadcast.
The rotation is built to maximize wheat area and yield. A good spread of break crops and constantly looking at refining over winter cover crop mixes e.g. nitrogen fixing pre-spring barley, high biomass pre-spring oats.
Biggest agronomic challenges
My biggest agronomic challenges are brome becoming more apparent and wild oats/tame oats creeping in.
What do they most value about Real Results?
I like having an element of ‘new’ research on the farm, although this year’s protocol will take a bit of getting my head around. I also enjoy contact with other growers in the group.