Real results 50 profile - Ben Styles

Name: Ben Styles

Occupation: Farmer

Farm: J A Styles, Bocking Hall

Cropping: Winter wheat (all feed), winter & spring barley (latter for malting), OSR, winter & spring beans (depending on rotation/ black-grass burden).

Farm machinery:

Main tractors are: 150hp Deutz-Fahr, 145hp Claas and 120hp Zetor. Landquip 24m sprayer, 24m KRM Bogballe spreader, Kverneland tine drill, 5-furrow plough (20 years old), Merlo telehandler, JD S685i combine (30ft header). Note: the Merlo and combine are shared with a neighbour.

About the farmer:

Ben is the third-generation to farm at Bocking Hall and is a very enthusiastic, practical person with an obvious love of farming. He grew up on the farm and admits he would have gone straight into farm work after leaving school had it not been for his father who insisted he gain some formal qualification. He gained a National Diploma in Agriculture from Otley College in Suffolk before working full-time for his father, at the same time as working for a local contractor for seven years during quieter periods on the farm.

Ben became a partner in the farm in 2006, which he runs with his father. He has also recently qualified as a City & Guilds proficiency tester for PA2 and PA4 (covering spraying and slug pellet application).

Ben knows it can be tough as a tenant farmer, but is keen to ensure the business remains profitable for future generations – he has three children of his own.

About the farm:

Bocking Hall is part of the Helmingham Estate, owned by Lord Tollemache. Ben’s grandfather first took on the tenancy in 1957 and the predominantly heavy clay land is now farmed by Ben and his father.

Increasing black-grass pressure is a particular challenge and one that has necessitated several changes on the farm. Second wheats have been largely dropped from the rotation, more spring cropping (beans and barley) has been introduced and cultivation strategies have reverted back to more of a plough-based system after 10 years of direct drilling.

The wet conditions of 2012 were a further trigger to move away from the direct drill, as they wanted a lighter-weight system than the Claydon and high-horsepower tractor combination. However, Ben remains flexible and tailors cultivations according to crop and field conditions. He shares equipment with neighbours to achieve this flexibility and minimise capital costs – the direct drill is now owned by the neighbouring farm.

Indeed the Merlo telehandler and JD combine are also shared with the neighbouring farm, although Ben does all combining across both farms, totalling around 728ha (1,800 acres).

The wheat area is mainly down to feed varieties grown as first wheats.

The farm is also in the HLS and has a small 30-head suckler herd of mainly traditional breeds (Hereford, Aberdeen Angus, plus Belgian Blue and a Limousin bull).

Farming philosophy:

Ben is a hands-on person who is not really one for having a farming philosophy, but he does believe that being “keen, willing to learn and put the time in” is key to success. It is an approach he takes on a daily basis, with a clear appreciation of the importance of using the expertise available from others.

Flexibility is another characteristic of the approach taken to running the farm business at Bocking Hall, notably in the cultivation strategies which are tailored to field conditions, cropping and the weather. Ploughing, min-till and direct drilling can all be used where appropriate and there is no “one size fits all” solution.

Being tenant farmers, there is an underlying focus on keeping costs down and the Styles’ are happy to share equipment with neighbours to reduce overheads where it is possible and practical to do so. Ben admits much of the machinery is ageing, with a “make do and mend” approach taken given the limited capital available to buy replacement equipment.

Variable application techniques for N, P & K are used on the farm, but pressure on margins has prompted a decision to take a “P&K holiday” this season. Ideally Ben would like to see more livestock on the farm to help build fertility and soil health and reduce the reliance on bought-in fertilisers, although the need for significant capital investment remains a challenge to this.

Hopes for Real Results participation:

Ben and his agronomist both participated in the Real Results project last season which prompted a season-long debate on fungicide programme decisions. The two of them are looking forward to a repeat of the on farm comparison of fungicide products that prompted a deeper analysis of the application choices they make.

Although it is Ben’s father that does the spraying and Ben is happy to let the agronomist take control of agchem decision making, he does value the insight into performance of products
and wants to keep up-to- date with latest developments.

The farm has been involved with various different trials in the past and has entered into the OSR category of the Yield Enhancement Network (YEN) competition this season.
The Real Results trial is in a field of RGT Gravity following winter field beans.