Mark Middleton

Occupation

Farmer.

Address

White Lodge Farm, Northamptonshire.

Cropping

Winter wheat, spring barley, OSR, winter beans, other crops.

About the farmer

Mark is 51 years old and went to Maltern College where he did an agriculture diploma. Mark then went travelling to Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Africa, before his father took him on in 1991 to work together as a family partnership. The business was an out and out contracting business with very little in-house land. Mark added, “We've bought a little land each year. Over the years we bought stubble to stubble agreement and progressed to FBTs as we’ve built relationships, which shows that we’ll get the job done.”

During his travels, Mark worked on rice farms in Australia, a sheep farm for a couple of weeks in New Zealand and drove overland trucks in Africa.

About the farm

The business owns some of the land. It has a long-standing AHA agreement on some other areas and some FBTs and contract farming (not including in acreage).

Farming philosophy

Mark says, “Keep learning and never stop. Enjoy the job for what it is.”

Mark also believes that reading is key. He likes reading about “all the weird stuff” e.g. biological farming. He first started reading about it 10 years ago and was also reading blogs, particularly from the states.

He also watches YouTube, for example he viewed a video by Michael Horsch about the future of farming recently, which was not about the machinery, it instead focused on plant-based diets.

Cultivation and drilling approach

Previously the farm adopted a deep non-inversion Sumo Trio Press approach. He has now changed to using a Vaderstad Joker drill and this year bought a direct drill. Mark added, “ The aim is to get cover crops more deeply embedded in the rotation but I am worried about losing Round-Up. If that happens the farm will go organic.”

Cover crops this year will follow OSR. Mark was advised by Ian Gauld at Oatbank (who does game covers), to go with tillage radish, phacelia and buckwheat. Mark explained that, “In front of a spring crop, it will be black oats and vetch. It is about putting air in the soil, but we want more pores and better root structures. I want the soils to be like a sponge.

We have alluvial silty clay loams that run together. Most of the land is under drained but even so, if you leave it alone it goes very sad. This is our 4th go at direct drilling, my father had a go in the 70s but stopped because of wild oats and brome. It has been back twice since then. We’ve got to get it right this time and cover crops might be the next piece of that jigsaw.”

Rotation

The farms rotation was going to be 2 x wheats, beans, wheat & OSR but that has now changed to introduce winter barley. The current rotation is now: wheat, barley, OSR, wheat, peas and then depending on the location, Mark might add linseed instead of OSR. He has also dropped the 2nd wheat for barley.

Biggest agronomic challenges

Mark’s biggest agronomic challenge is black-grass on heavy land and poppies coming in on the red land (30% of farm ironstone - a sandy clay loam). Flea beetle on OSR is also a challenge. Mark explained, “The main decisions revolve around black-grass. For anything else it’s always the 2nd question. I want to grow x, but what will that do to the black-grass populations?”

What do they most value about Real Results?

Mark likes the idea of farmer-led trials, in-field trials as opposed to trials-site trials. He also likes how real-time trials are done with all the pressures of all the “normal year”, rather than the perfect timings.

“We have a trial here and there’s value in the opportunity to have it tabulated with proper protocols,” he added.