JN Fuller-Shapcott &Co, Sweethope, Kelso.
Winter wheat, winter barley, Spring barley, OSR, Beans, Spring oats.
About the farmer
David was not raised on a farm but having spent considerable time on his grandfather’s farm in Wiltshire he knew from a young age that he wanted to go into agriculture.
After gaining a HND in Agriculture at Shuttleworth College over 30 years ago he travelled and worked on farms in New Zealand and Australia for 12 months before returning just before the family moved to Sweethope Farm.
He confesses to having a competitive streak (as evidenced by the desire for a Gold YEN Award after winning bronze and silver in the past two years) and is someone that copes well under pressure.
Attention to detail is something David seems to do well, whether that is in terms of scrutinising costs across the business or finding the small incremental gains that will push yields further. “If you don’t measure it you can’t manage it,” he says.
He is open to sharing ideas and implementing changes but is keen to ensure they are right for the farm before rolling out on a wider scale. He is a good communicator, has chaired two local Monitor Farm Groups and is currently a member of an AHDB business benchmarking group.
About the farm
Sweethope Farm (see also http://www.sweethope-farm.co.uk/) is a mixed family farm situated in the Scottish Borders on predominantly heavy clay loam soils. It was taken on by the family in 1988 when they moved from Wiltshire.
The farm is mostly arable, growing cereals and oilseed rape in a six-year rotation roughly split between two-thirds winter cropping and one-third spring.
Oilseed rape is the main break crop, while autumn-sown Group 3 soft biscuit-making wheat is seen as a low-risk premium product. Barley is a key crop, with spring varieties aimed at the local malt distilling market and winter barley for brewing and pearling.
One of the biggest changes recently has been a shift from a predominantly plough-based system to minimum tillage, based around a single pass with the Weaving Subdisc before a power harrow-drill combination. The system allows for timelier establishment on what can be tricky clay soils, reduces establishment costs and allows better seedbed creation in autumn and spring, he says.
The farm also features 32ha of permanent grass lets, used to finish pedigree Aberdeen-Angus cattle for the premium beef market and 17ha of mixed woodland.
David’s philosophy mirrors that of the family farming company, which is to “aim to produce a consistent, high quality product for a known market, while continuing to look at further opportunities for improvement”. This means producing what the market wants, when it wants it.
This “growing for the market” ethos is in addition to managing the land to encourage and preserve wildlife habitats.
Precision farming plays a big part in his strategy, with GPS guidance and yield mapping used for key operations.
David is keen to learn new ideas and find new ways to drive yields in an economically viable way by thinking “outside the box”. He is a member of the ADAS Yield Enhancement Network (YEN), winning a silver award in 2016 for a crop of Zulu WW that yielded 63.5% of its “biophysical potential” at 11.89t/ha. This followed a bronze award in the same category in 2015, with another crop of Zulu that hit 14.2t/ha.
In 2019 he won another YEN bronze award , this time for an oilseed rape crop which yielded 6.4t/ha, calculated as 63% of its biophysical potential.
David was Arable Innovator of the Year in the 2018 British Farming Awards, Agriscot Scottish Arable Farmer of the Year finalist in 2018 and Scottish Rural Awards (Agriculture) finalist in 2019, Farmers Weekly Arable Farmer of the Year finalist 2019 and Scottish Land & Estates award winner 2019.
Cost management is close to his heart and he is adamant that while yield is king, it must not be at any cost. The greatest scope for savings is in depreciation and other overheads rather than in cutting inputs, so he supports the view that “variable costs are fixed and fixed costs are variable”.
Cultivation and drilling approach
Ploughing is only used ahead of winter barley. The lands is heavy with a clay content of 30% making ploughing expensive. The power requirement is estimated at 30hp per furrow.
Minimum tillage is employed for all other establishment. To avoid heavy soil drying out too quickly in the spring, drilling is carried out within 20 minutes of cultivation with the rollers following in a similarly tight time frame. A power harrow/ drill combination is used for establishing cereals.
Oilseed rape establishment is based on a cultivator using nine narrow and shortened subsoiler tines to create relatively undisturbed slots ahead of a heavy packer. The plan for 2020 is to broadcast a cover crop (probably clover and buckwheat) between the rows.
There is ambition to create a permanent cover of white clover across the farm as means of suppressing weeds while at the same time acting as source of nitrogen.
Winter beans have been introduced to the rotation. The crop is being considered as “experimental” until there is more certainty about markets and the ability to harvest earlier than November.
The standard six course rotation is oilseed rape, winter wheat, spring oats, winter wheat, spring barley, winter barley.
Biscuit making varieties of wheat are grown. Oats are for human consumption. Spring barley is for malting and winter barleys are 50% for malting (brewing) and 50% for pearling.
Biggest agronomic challenges
The control of annual grass weeds in the face of a reduced armoury of autumn herbicides and difficult ground conditions. Groundsel is becoming a particular problem.
What do they most value about Real Results?
Peer to peer discussions are seen as being particularly valuable- especially the networking at conference. The chance to try new materials on farm is also appreciated. Testing and comparing new products on home soil is the best way to evaluate them.