Real results 50 profile - Julian Thirsk

Name: Julian Thirsk

Occupation: Agronomist

Farm: Flaxley Lodge Farm

Cropping: Wheat, barley (winter & spring), OSR, peas, early, second early and main crop potatoes.

Farm machinery:

Three main tractors all JDs, ranging from 170-280hp, 6m Horsch combination drill, Lemken plough, 5m Simba X-Press, 3m Simba SL, Simba Freeflow subsoiler, 24m Sands self-propelled sprayer, Amazone fertiliser spreader, JD combine, sugar beet drill.

About the farmer:

Julian was brought up on the family farm and has always known he wanted to go into farming. He studied agriculture at Bishop Burton College in 1992 before going on to gain a degree in Agriculture from Nottingham University 23 years ago. He then started work for ADAS and has been involved with agronomy ever since. He is now a full-time agronomist for NIABTAG.

Julian has very strong technical knowledge in all aspects of crop husbandry and a real desire to put more science behind decision-making on the farm.

About the farm:

Julian’s father bought Flaxley Lodge Farm in 1972 and has built the business up since then. The farm business was once a major carrot producer, but now focusses on a range of combinable and root crops.

Soil type varies widely across the farm, from Series 2 sandy land to Grade I silt. The rotation varies according to soil type with sugar beet being the main break crop on the light land, alongside peas, oilseed rape and potatoes. Cropping on heavier land revolves around two wheats (mainly feed varieties), six-row winter barley and oilseed rape.

Soil slumping and moisture availability can be big issues, so cultivations and establishment are tailored to individual fields, with anything from minimum tillage to ploughing used depending on conditions. Generally lighter land is ploughed, although some is min-tilled, while most heavy land is min-tilled, with ploughing often used ahead of winter barley.

The farm is run by Julian and his father, together with one other full-time employee. Flooding was a major issue in 2012, when a large area was lost.

Farming philosophy:

Julian does not really admit to having a “farming philosophy”, however, he is someone that sees the value of investing in crops to improve profitability.

While there is a strong focus on costs within the farm business he is not prepared to compromise crop performance through “being tight on costs”.

Flexibility is a key characteristic of his approach, with cultivations and inputs tailored according to individual field requirements. He regards himself as being a bit “old school” by preferring to keep things relatively simple and manage fields separately based on field sampling rather than go down the variable application route (particularly for fertiliser) – a decision driven by the lack of any clear cost-benefit for the latter on his farm.

He is not against precision farming technology though and says GPS kit is fitted to all the main tractors, sprayer and combine (which also does yield mapping). Any new investment must show a clear cost-benefit before being deployed on the farm.

Hopes for Real Results participation:

Julian’s technical agronomy background means he has always been keen on using trials to maximise the performance of the strategies used on the farm and bring more science to his
decision-making.

“We’ve weighed and recorded crops going into store since the 1980’s and records show things seem to have hit a bit of a plateau, so it’s interesting to find ways to try and break
that.”

Historically he has conducted a number of informal trials on the farm, including variety trials and another last year looking at blends of winter wheat. He has also investigated the use of strobilurins alongside other standard fungicides in six-row winter barley. After a couple of years break, it is a trial he has set up again this season, where a 6ha field has been divided into 1ha plots. “It’s not a replicated trial, so doesn’t stack up statistically, but it does give a useful indication of what can be achieved with actual farm practices.”

Real Results is a natural extension of this farm trials work.

Julian recognises the importance of having a farm employee who is equally interested in trials, as this helps with the day-to- day management of the plots.