Shropshire Real Results Roadshow Blog
Making farming businesses more resilient in the face of increasing political and economic uncertainty was a key theme emerging from the Shropshire BASF Real Results Roadshow.
Maintaining profitable crop production by improving technical excellence, notably through improved soil heath, and reducing costs were highlighted by farmers Andrew Williamson and Jake Freestone at the event, held at the Royal Air Force Museum, Cosford.
Well-known Shropshire farmer Andrew outlined four challenges he was facing, namely labour, environment, cost of production, and soil health.
“Beyond the obvious challenge of excessive rainfall in the past few months, I believe these are the main challenges that affect all farming businesses, and we need to make changes to mitigate them,” he said.
With that in mind, Andrew, who farms 365ha of combinable crops from Upper Overton, near Bridgnorth, has employed three key strategies – precision farming, joint ventures and cover crops.
He now variably applies fertilisers, seed, some fungicides and plant growth regulators. “We only use as much input as we need, which is economically and environmentally sustainable.”
A joint venture with a neighbour started in 2016. All the main kit is shared and costs split according to land area. “It is very much a gentleman’s agreement. It has given me access to skilled labour, reduced costs, increased profit, and improved timeliness, and we have better equipment.”
Andrew has also been benchmarking business costs for the past four years. “It gives you the chance to talk to like-minded famers – it certainly focuses the mind.”
In that time, machinery and equipment costs have nearly halved, partly due to the joint venture, and partly due to operational changes. “That gives me confidence going forwards.”
Andrew has also changed his rotation moving away from autumn drilling due to grass weed pressure, and brought spring crops back as well as cover crops to improve carbon capture and soil health.
“This led us on to thinking about direct drilling. I don’t think cultivating soils to make the drill work is the right thing to do. There are challenges, but we can overcome them. I know it can work, from other farmers’ experiences and my Nuffield Scholarship travels, and we need to make it work.”
Jake Freestone, who manages over 950ha of combinable crops and 350ha grass at Overbury Enterprises on the Gloucestershire/Worcestershire border, listed loss of key chemistry, reduced efficacy of remaining products and the need to meet public goods as key challenges.
Integrated crop management is key on his farm. “There are three main elements – minimising soil disturbance, keeping soil covered and adopting a long and diverse rotation.”
Cover crops are a vital resource. A diverse range of species adds diversity and provides different rooting habits to further improve water infiltration, raise soil organic matter, build fertility and reduce erosion.
Grass leys are key in the rotation, as are legumes, brassicas as well as cereals. He is making use of better varieties with improved pest and disease resistance and is looking to improve in-field monitoring.
Jake said: “We have adopted a whole-system approach – it’s not just about buying a direct drill. It is helping us maintain margins – we’ve just benchmarked our farm using AHDB for the first time and that’s been quite encouraging.
“It’s actually an exciting and fun way to farm. I get as much pleasure out of looking at cover crops varieties and their uses as I do winter wheat.
“I’m pretty convinced now that soil heath has come into the Agriculture Bill that it will enable the unlocking of some sort of support to assist in this type of conservation farming to help underpin the risks, reverse the decline in some species and increase sustainability, important when talking about food imports and trade agreements.”
Technical excellence is another area that growers are striving to improve. For the past three years, Andrew, along with 49 other farmers across the UK, has taken part in BASF’s Real Results trials, in which farmers pitch their on-farm standard wheat fungicide programmes against a BASF programme.
Andrew said the trials show how various programmes affect crop performance on his own farm, giving him the opportunity to test new material early and improve treatment programmes.
Last year, BASF introduced Revystar® XE into its Real Results programme. Andrew used a September-drilled first wheat, KWS Siskin, comparing Aviator Xpro at T1 and Ascra Xpro at T2 (1 and 1.25 litres/ha respectively) with Revystar® XE (also at 1 and 1.25 litres/ha).
“By the end of June/early July you could pick out the difference by eye,” said Andrew. NDVI imagery and leaf disease assessments backed this up, showing significantly more green leaf area and less Septoria on the Revystar® XE treated plots.
ADAS analysis showed the Revystar® XE plots yielded 0.2t/ha more than the farm standard. “It’s a good set of results,” says Andrew. They reflect the trend seen in most Real Results trials; output rose by 0.39t/ha on average using a two-spray programme of Revystar® XE compared with farm standards.
Andrew also went to Ireland to see how Revystar® XE performed, where it was put under extreme pressure applied at T2 only under very heavy disease pressure.
Revystar® XE plots still retained some green leaf with much less disease. “It was phenomenal – the difference was really stark. I think we are looking at the best fungicide on the market.”
Key take-home points
- Precision farming techniques can help optimise agronomy decisions and profit, but data needs to be managed and interpreted well.
- Machinery and labour costs can be reduced. Reap the benefits of benchmarking and consider a joint venture.
- Soil health is key to sustainable crop production and business prospects.
- Real Results trials highlight how various fungicide programmes affect crop performance on farm and how significant the results are, and gives growers an opportunity to test new material early and improve treatment programmes.
Read more articles about Revystar® XE in January’s edition of CPM here.
Revystar® XE and Revysol® are registered Trade Marks of BASF. Revystar® XE contains Revysol® and Xemium®. Revysol® contains mefentrifluconazole. Xemium® contains fluxapyroxad. Always read the label and product information before use. For further product information including warning phrases and symbols, you can refer to https://www.agricentre.basf.co.uk/en