Robert Hobill

Occupation

Farmer.

Address

Model Farm, Oxfordshire.

Cropping

Winter wheat, winter barley, spring barley, OSR, Beans, Peas, winter oats.

About the farmer

Robert has been farming at Ditchley Park Estate, described as an “all round country estate”, for over twenty years and refers to it as his “own little oasis”. He believes in making a good job and cutting no corners, in order to farm successfully and engage positively with the public. Dealing positively with the public is not easy and he believes that people not doing the job correctly are letting the industry down.

About the farm

Ditchley Park Estate is owned by the Wills Trust and the large estate house is part of the Ditchley Foundation, which was founded by Sir David Wills. This foundation was set up to help prevent wars after WW2.

The farming business covers approximately 1000 ha of arable land, including 200ha of grassland. The farm runs 100 suckler cows and 220 ewes. All stock are born and fed on the farm and eventually sold directly from the farm to slaughter. Robert runs a completely closed herd.
The ground is light and fairly brashy, therefore a continuous supply of rain is what Robert hopes for.

Black-grass has been an issue, however Robert believes that direct drilling helps control it and makes it more manageable. He says he has always been in control of it and if it was to become too hard to cope with, he would consider ploughing. Brome grass is now a bigger problem.

Farming philosophy

Sustainability is important to Robert, who encourages wildlife across the entire estate. Bumble bee friendly mixes are sown in places. Many birds are being fed continuously across the estate. Forestry conservation is also important on the estate, with 850 acres of woodland. A biomass plant heats the large estate house and all the houses in the valley. Soft wood is harvested for biomass use and any hard wood is sold off the estate.

As a way of conserving the land, Robert has been using a 10 metre controlled traffic system for seven years. All the machinery matches the tramlines, which he believes benefits the soil. No machinery disturbs the tramlines except the drill and combine. He is confident that this system is the right way forward and works well. On Ditchley Park Estate, there is a significant quantity of earthworms. ““Wherever we dig our hands in, we can pull worms out, so we feel this is the way forward.”

In terms of soils, they cultivate entirely on their own, which Robert says, “is a treat to see”.

Cultivation and drilling approach

Direct drilling is used for all crops. The standard approach is to direct drill followed by a Cambridge roller. This suits the brash soils and the occasional clay outcrop.

Rotation

Livestock is being reintroduced into the arable rotation. Kale has been sown in late June following a whole crop harvest of winter barley. Stubble turnips have been broadcast into standing wheat. The kale will be grazed by cattle and the stubble turnips eaten off by sheep.

Biggest agronomic challenges

Brome grass has now become the most dominant weed problem.

Establishing oilseed rape successfully is also becoming more challenging. Robert said, “It can cope with one challenge such as a dry seed bed or cabbage stem flea beetle but not with two together.

What do they most value about Real Results?

Listening to other participants.