Julian Thirsk

Occupation

Agronomist

Address

Flaxley Lodge Farm, North Yorkshire.

Cropping

Winter wheat, winter barley, spring wheat, OSR, peas.

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 focuses 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.

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.

Cultivation and drilling approach

Approach driven by variable soil types and rotation, one solution does not fit all. Minimal tillage is practiced after oilseed rape and peas in front of winter wheat when possible. A managed approach, where only as much soil as necessary is moved to establish the crop.

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.

Rotation

Due to the wide variation of soil type’s rotation can be flexible. On heavy ground two winter wheats often precede winter barley followed by a break of either OSR or peas. On the lighter land one wheat (spring/winter) will be followed by winter barley and a break of sugar beet or potatoes. The heavy land rotation is predominantly driven by blackgrass control.

Biggest agronomic challenges

The inclement weather, and the significant weather events we are increasingly experiencing.

What do they most value about Real Results?

Opportunity to look at new chemistry, meet like-minded farmers and a range of experts (like Jenni Dungait). It also offers an improved use of field data via YEN.