David Leverton

Occupation

Farmer.

Address

Dyke Den Farm, Bourne, Lincolnshire.

Cropping

Potatoes (all for chips), sugar beet, Winter wheat (biscuit and feed), OSR, spring barley, combining peas.

About the farmer

Dyke Den Farm has been in the family since the 1930’s and David is the fourth generation to farm here, so is keen to secure its long-term future. He is open to new ways of working that can help achieve this goal.

Having grown up on the farm, he studied agriculture at Caythorpe Agricultural College, before travelling to work in Australia for a few months. Following that he returned to the farm and now works alongside his father, another three full-time members of staff (Paul, Henry and Laimis) and a number of other seasonal workers employed from harvest through to Christmas.

David has also chaired the Millennium Farmers group and recently completed a Worshipful Company of Farmers Advanced Course in Agricultural Business Management.

He acknowledges he is not someone that seeks publicity, so requests that he must be contacted prior to anything being published please.

About the farm

Of the 647ha farmed area, around half is owned by the family, with the remaining land farmed on a variety of FBT and contract farming agreements. With potatoes being an important arm of the business, soil health is a key consideration, which is why “clean” land is rented to avoid any build-up of pests (particularly PCN) and disease and so reduce reliance on chemical control.

Decisions regarding rotation are not geared around the gross margin but rather the cropping history of the field and maximising the break between particular crops.

David is reluctant to plough ground for black-grass control as he believes “modern ploughs don’t really do a good enough job of consistent proper inversion, such as you would see at a ploughing match, for example”. The plough is the last machine out of the shed. He instead aims for minimal soil disturbance, where possible and minimum disturbance legs have been fitted to the Sumo cultivator.

Spring cropping (mainly barley, sugar beet and peas) is a key tool for controlling black-grass and David often uses two or more consecutive spring break crops to help reduce weed numbers. This is getting harder to achieve due to the reduction in herbicides available.

The farm also bales and sells around 5,000-6,000 tonnes of straw a year, with some going to Sleaford power station and the rest to the West Country.

Farming philosophy

David is a hands-on farmer who is willing to consider new ideas and collaborate with the right people in order to secure a viable future for the family farm.

Given the pressure on farm margins he knows more must be done to reduce costs and this is an area that he is keen to focus on, even if the answers still need to be found. “I’m always looking to add another element to our business to help mitigate risk.”

Working with neighbouring farmers by sharing machinery is one of the main things he’s looking at, especially as some equipment is already shared (e.g. sugar beet drill). “Kit is what costs you, especially if you don’t do enough with it to divide down the costs. Machinery frustratingly depreciates all too fast so I try to with the depreciation of a machine foremost in my mind.”

But while he’s keen to reduce fixed costs, he believes there is little to trim off growing costs and is keen not to compromise yields or quality, especially as most of the potato crop goes for chip production and around 600t of wheat goes to biscuit making.

Cultivation and drilling approach

Minimal disturbance is the target with as little “boiling” of the surface as possible . A Vaderstad drill is used for cereals and a Horsch drill for beans.
Ploughing is only carried out if conditions demand it.

Rotation

There is no fixed rotation but there are very few second wheats grown. The gap between potato crops is kept at ten years or more.

Biggest agronomic challenges

Black-grass is historically the biggest challenge but David is becoming increasingly concerned about crop stresses caused by climate or mutations in fungal diseases such as rust in wheat.

What do they most value about Real Results?

Meeting other members face-to-face.