Real results 50 profile - Brian Barker

Name: Brian Barker

Occupation: Farmer

Farm: EJ Barker and Sons

Cropping: WW 246 ha, Spring Beans 65 ha, Winter Barley 41ha, Spring Linseed 36 ha 81 ha herbage grass.

Farm machinery:

TRACTORS: 3 X Fendt 936, 826, 516
COMBINE: Claas Lexion 760
SPRAYER: 30m Sands Horizon self propelled
DRILL: Sumo DTS, Sumo DD

About the farmer:

Mr Barker said, “I didn’t always want to farm, I left school during the Foot and Mouth epidemic and my Dad and Uncle told me to go and do something else because at that point farming wasn’t a great place to be. So I did two years of an Environmental Science degree course at Lancaster University before realising that agriculture was the path I wanted to take. After that I went to agricultural college at Writtle College in Essex studying a degree in agriculture and business management and came home to farm after that.”

Open and honest approach to sharing business information

“If you don’t measure it then you can’t change it.”

Mr Barker said, “This quote comes from our involvement in the AHDB Monitor Farm programme. We have been a Monitor farm for the past three years and the process was described to me as undressing my farm in public. That is pretty much how it has been as I have been very open and honest about our business and it has given me so much information to adapt my farming system.”

Incredible attention to detail; managing to potential

Mr Barker said, “What I had been doing, up until last year, was just farming green crops to in the end hope for a good final yield. Now my mindset is farming to potential and evaluating risk with much more detail.

Last year and this year I have done plant establishment counts, pre and post winter. I have done spring shoot and tiller counts for every single field so I can theoretically predict yield for every field. Last year I predicted yield to within 8% of what came off the combine when adjusted to 15% moisture. I intend to build up a data set for each year including detailed weather logging so that I can start to make much more informed decisions going forward.

I look at the risks prior to investing in crop inputs with the low theoretical yield fields receiving less inputs because I don’t want to be over spending on those given the aim to make a margin on ever hectare. The crops with the higher yield potential will be getting better investment such as possibly a double SDHI chemistry programme which I know is going to pay back on higher yielding crops. It is how my agronomist and I evaluate the risk facing our crops which drives my decisions so knowing a potential for every field is key.

I am in the field much more now and hope to one day find a more accurate technology based method which is within my budget but for now I learning with every count. I have also been looking at rooting, so I can rein back the fertiliser requirements accordingly instead of just using one or two approaches for all, I’m looking at every single field and I will roll that on into following years so that the datasets build up. It has already shown up some interesting things in terms of plant populations, varieties and rotation slots.

I have only been doing direct drilling and strip tillage for three years and with doing the establishment counts this year it has already flagged up that I need to be increasing the seed rate to get to the plant populations that I am targeting.

When it actually comes to taking the combine into the field I should have a very good estimation of the yield I am going to get from that field.

Last year our net margins and cost of production per ton was dramatically different compared to the previous and I was incredible happy with what we achieved. Yes, it could have been a lower disease pressure year but it was the detailed approach that meant our cost of production was so low.”

Yield Club

Mr Barker said, “Off the back of the Monitor Farm programme I have created a Stowmarket Yield Club, where we have 18 local farmers who are each collecting the same information (plant  and tiller counts to date) as I have, on one field of their farms. This will give us information on different drills, varieties, soils and weather conditions.

I have also secured funding from The Chadacre Agricultural Trust which will enable us to do tissue analysis on the plants from each farmer’s field, at pre T1, pre T2 and pre and post T3. From this we will be able to look at the separation of nutrients in 18 different crops with 18 different management strategies. This will pick out the trends and so between us we will be able to see which management strategies are showing increased yield.” Last year was year one and already the group has highlighted potential limiting factors in our nutrition and so we have something to try next year. Knowing what others do in confidence and discussing with peers is the best way to improve your personal learning, the group is going from strength to strength.

About the farm:

Mr Barker said, “We have a family partnership, I farm with my cousin. My grandfather bought the farm in 1957, it was rundown and wet, best described as a young man’s farm, so my grandfather set to and started to drain the farm, which my Dad and Uncle carried on when they came into the farm, they then expanded the farm and introduced a pig enterprise which stopped about 12 years ago.

The farm has been a LEAF Demonstration farm since 2012, an AHDB Monitor farm for the last 3 years and this year became the first ever AHDB Cereals and Oilseeds Strategic Farm with the aim to link top end research with day to day farming on the ground.

Soils: Silt clay loam

Rotation: 12 year rotation, built around the amenity ryegrass crops sown down for 2 years.

How do you establish winter wheat: I dig holes in every field to access soil structure, weed burden and the rotation before choosing from direct drilling, strip tillage, minimal tillage or the reset button the plough. I try and look long term to do the best for each field to reduce fixed costs.

Fertiliser- CF SingleTop or CF MultiCut Sulphur with Liquid N used to top the first 6m of headland up.

Is Blackgrass an issue? Blackgrass pressure is manageable as it is in patches. Control is mainly with cultural control measures, and then chemistry and hand rogueing to prevent seed return. Mr Barker said, “With the ryegrass in the middle of the rotation it means that the soil doesn’t get moved for ~2 ½ years which helps.”

Farming philosophy:

Mr Barker said, “We aim to produce high quality, nutritious crops in a farmed environment that benefits local biodiversity. We want to stay ahead of the game, achieving high yields with minimal impact on the local landscape and wildlife.

We are at the stage now where the families next generation are  coming along and I want to ensure that we are make enough money for our family to keep doing what we have been doing.

I think every day is a learning day, never give up and that enthusiasm brings luck.”

Hopes for Real Results participation:

Mr Barker wants to use the Real Results Circle to directly compare fungicide strategies. With his new approach of accessing theoretical yield potential will SDHI on lower potential crops give him yield and financial payback or should they be only used in high disease pressure years in high potential crops? If you don’t measure or compare you can’t change for the better!