Real results 50 profile - Simon Beddows

Name: Simon Beddows

Occupation: Farmer

Farm: Dunsden Green Farm Office

Cropping: 750ha arable

Farm machinery:

TRACTORS: 3 X John Deere ~210hp
COMBINE: John Deere S680 i, 30ft header
SPRAYER: Chafer Guardian, 5000L, 30m
DRILL John Deere 750 A
Fertiliser application: granular

About the farmer:

Mr Beddows has always wanted to be a farmer ever since he was a little kid. He said, “If anybody asked me what you want to be when you grow up it wasn’t going to be a steam engine driver or anything like that, it was a farmer. I don’t come from farming background; however, I have always been keen on the countryside and lived in the countryside.

I went to Harper Adams and did an HND, and I have been here since 2003. When I came here it needed picking up and I like to think that I have done that, changed and improved it.

I feel as though I have made a difference in a number of ways; from managing the staff, improving crop production and our yields, improving the buildings and the machinery and generally improving the way we do things. The estate gels together better now.”

The first farmer Mr Beddows worked for on his pre college farm inspired him, “A lot of how he dealt with staff I have tried to aspire to over the years, he was just a really good employer, one of the best I have worked for.”

Outreach

Up until this year Mr Beddows has been the chairman of the local agricultural society and as such has been quite involved with running the Henley agricultural show, ploughing match and sheepdog trial. He said, “I instigated having a marquee for school children to teach them where their food came from and it was hugely successful.

I am also a farmer focus writer for Farmers Weekly and we have various groups coming here for farm visits.”

About the farm:

The soils on the estate are very mixed. Mr Beddows said, “We have gravel, small areas of clay cap, small areas of chalky downland sand some small areas of reasonable loam soil. Most fields have a mixture of all four in them.”

The arable area is in a five year rotation: winter wheat, winter barley, winter oilseed rape, and winter wheat then maize or spring oats.   Mr Beddows added, “We have an HLS and an ELS scheme on the estate.”

The estate owns no livestock however, Mr Beddows said, “We have an arrangement with a local farmer where we do a straw for muck deal with him. The forage maize is grown for this same livestock farmer.”

Looking to the future, Mr Beddows said his current plan is to get the estate through Brexit and to come out the other side being able to survive and not rely on any subsidy. He said, “I am currently changing the way we do things to get to that point.

I have changed the way that we cultivate and establish crops. We are in our first season of shedding 13 tonnes worth of tractor and 270 hp to cut down on our costs.”

Since Mr Beddows came to the estate in 2003 cultivation has been on minimal till. However, he said, “We had been using tillage trains with tines and discs and presses which required large tractors, which made more compaction which required more cultivating. You get yourself into a system whereby you are just creating more problems.

We are now in our first season of micro tilling now which is cultivating the top three or four inches of soil and then either direct drilling or drilling into that thin layer of soil that we have cultivated.

At the same time, if a field needs to be ploughed because there is an issue with blackgrass, or if it needs subsoiling somewhere in the rotation then it will be done. It is a more managed approach. The overall emphasis now is to till a lot less ground. So far things look ok but every harvest is different, we shall see.”

This changed cultivation system has reduced the number and size of the tractors, diesel and overtime costs for the estate.

Farming philosophy:

We are only really just caretakers of the land and you should be handing it on to whoever takes over from you next in a better condition than you found it.

All farmers are both food producers and custodians of the countryside. We are here to produce food, that’s our living, that’s what we do but because we work where we live we are also looking after the countryside. I think it is something that the Government is missing out on. If we make a profit, most farmers plough it back into their farm by improving hedges, trees, ponds whatever, to again hand it on to the next generation so you have got to make a profit to be able to do that.

Soil health is maybe something we haven’t focussed enough on in the past and we need to take more care of our soil. I wouldn’t say we haven’t been taking care of it; I would say it is an issue that most farmers have let pass over them although we obviously try to look after it. There is still a lot to learn about how we can manage it better.”

Some of the estate’s HLS and ELS are designed to help wildlife. Mr Beddows said, “We have a scheme down by the Thames that is designed to help wading birds and we are sowing mixes for wild bird seed, we are trying to do our bit.”

Hopes for Real Results participation:

Mr Beddows said, “I have always done a lot of on farm trials and I am always keen  to get involved because you learn a lot about techniques, chemicals and new varieties actually doing it on your own farm rather than relying on information that is done somewhere else because every farm is unique. It is particularly so here with our variable soil types and topography.

I am looking forward to being involved with the Real Result Circle, getting some useful results out of it and getting to discuss with other farmers how they got on.”