Sunday, November 19, 2017

Bold cropping plan for traditional estate

July 4, 2017 by  
Filed under Profiles

MidFrmr-150617-Thoresby

A cropping plan to optimise farm inputs is being implemented at Thoresby Home Farm, Notts. Simon Wragg reports.

A bold plan is taking shape in Nottinghamshire – thanks to a partnership between Thoresby Estate’s Hugh Matheson, farm manager Andrew Naish, who is also a tenant farmer on the estate, and his assistant Will Baker.

Thoresby Home Farm – the 3049ha (7534 acres) in-hand farming operation on the estate of the same name – is formalising a cropping plan to reduce inputs, improve soil organic matter and make best use of irrigation water.

The complexity of the farming operation is illustrated by the current cropping, suggests Andrew. “Of 3049ha there’s around 2500ha under the plough – including 935ha of winter wheat, 47ha of rye and 100ha of maize grown for biogas customers.”

There is also 350ha of oilseed rape, 180ha of winter hybrid barley for seed, 75ha of spring malting barley, 160ha of spring beans, 43ha of carrots and 40ha of onions on lighter land, 120ha of main crop potatoes, and 148ha of sugar beet.

“The remainder is parkland, heath, permanent or temporary pasture,” says Andrew. “These areas support 110 Longhorn suckler cows and their offspring, 200 Hebridean ewes, and a commercial flock of 900 Mules.”

Farmed land is split 50:50 between heavier Keuper marl and lighter Bunter sandstone. The latter is suited to growing potatoes, onions and carrots which all feature in one of Thoresby’s rotations. An area of 140ha of lighter land is let on a three-year turnaround to a 2000-sow outdoor operation forming the basis of another rotation.

Soil nutrients

Andrew explains: “Pigs are followed in spring by either sugar beet or maize – both able to cope with variations in soil nutrients, potatoes, wheat and then back around into pigs. They’re useful for rooting out ground keepers and leave a good amount of potash and organic matter behind.”

The objective for the management team is to computerise all crop plans and supporting data in the form of spreadsheets, yield, nutrient and soil maps – some accessed using Gatekeeper software.

This is being married to cash-flow and budget forecasts – both outsourced – allowing current and future employees to understand the basis of the operations. Day-to-day accounts are handled by farm administrator Linsey Bowring.

Previously, much of the thinking behind crop rotations and their relevance to Thoresby had been committed to spreadsheets by Will’s father, John – Thoresby’s farm manager until retiring in 2015 due to ill health.

Work had begun to disseminate these with Andrew working alongside John on a part-time basis initially whilst manage his own arable and vegetable farm, eventually taking over full-time in late 2015.

Organic matter

Current physical objectives at Thoresby include increasing soil organic matter which stands at 2-2.5% on lighter soils. Manure from the pig enterprise, sewage cake, poultry and green manure are being utilised within a nutrient plan.

“We can plough in 125t/ha of straw used to bed down carrots and it’s gone in a couple of years,” explains Andrew.

A move to liquid fertiliser is being facilitated by the purchase of two Agrifac Condor 36m self propelled sprayers with Trimble guidance and individual nozzle shut off. This will provide sufficient capacity to apply agro-chemicals as well as nutrients at critical growth stages for cereals (T1 and T2, in particular).

“My concern with fertiliser applied using a spinning disc is accuracy on headlands and throwing prills out to 36 metres. Given an average field size of 12ha we may be under supplying 4-5% of the total cropped area.”

Despite having a base station and making use of RTK GPS guidance for in-field machinery operations, variable rate management of inputs has yet to follow.

Irrigation

Best use of irrigation water – the estate has licences to abstract over 1m cubic metres from rivers, a ground aquifer and winter reservoirs – is aided by using neutron probes to measure soil moisture level.

This determines how much water is applied to meet the needs of each crop. A ring main powered partly by roof-mounted solar panels supplies 22 in-field irrigation reels.

Reducing risk of compaction on heavier soils is also under scrutiny having purchased a 500hp Fendt 1050 for cultivations. Advice has been sought from tyre manufacturer Michelin on ballast weight use and tyre operating pressures, reports Will.

Post harvest, the bulk of crops are able to be stored on-farm. The exception is potatoes which are marketed early to avoid penalties for dull skins – a consequence of sandy soils, it’s suggested. Marketing is also done in-house.

As a result, the demand on management time is apparent. The team is continuing an ethos of encouraging all 13 farm staff – 11 drivers and two stockmen – to take lead roles in day-to-day operations.

The challenge has great resonance for Will who, ultimately, is envisaged to take on the role of farm manager. His training with nationwide farm management company Velcourt and Yorks-based Cockerill’s should stand him in good stead.

“My dad had been here for 18 years so Thoresby has been a big part of family life,” suggests Will. “It is good to return and to be putting to practice what he started.”

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