Cropping, cultivation, GM, precision ag, R&D and big issues for Ag

Twitter@Wyefarm
Biog: We farm 500 acres of predominantly arable land in the heart of the Wye Valley at Ross-On-Wye. The whole Farm is tenanted from The Duchy of Cornwall.
Our arable rotation involves Wheat, Malting Barley, Winter Oilseed Rape, Peas and Sugarbeet.
We also run a flock of homebred “Easycare” style ewes.
I grew up on the farm and returned home to run it in partnership with my parents in 2008 after graduating from The Royal Agricultural College with a degree in Agriculture.
In 2012 I took succession of tenancy from my father & was the youngest Duchy tenant at the time.
I have a keen interest in technology especially that surrounding advances in agriculture.
Outside of the farm I enjoy all sports especially rugby, I also featured in two series of Channel 4’s “First Time Farmers”
What are your cropping choices for the 2015/16 season, variety choices and reasoning for your selection?
Winter Wheat is 95% KWS Santiago, 5% Reflection. The Santiago has been a solid performer for the last few years & the field of Reflection we are growing will be used for seed in 2016 as long as it performs as well if not better than the Santiago.
Winter Oilseed Rape is all HOLL Rape this year. It is out first year growing HOLL OSR and we have been attracted to it because of the associatged premium & the newer varieties that are at the top of the recommended list.
Spring Barley is our largest crop, we are growing Propino for malting mostly to Molson Coors, the variety is the one they seem to want & is performing well for us.
Spring Peas – Prophet we have been growing peas for around 10 years, in that time we have found that Prophet tend to stand better than other varieties & that is the most important aspect for us.
Sugarbeet will be a mixture of varieties
What approach do you take to your cultivations?
Up until 3 years ago we were 100% plough & combination drill. It was & still is a very effective system & we never suffer from crop failures but it is expensive. We have since bought a Simba Xpress (legs + Discs) & this year bought a tine drill. The idea being that we “min till” the winter crops & plough the spring crops. Last year was the first year with this method & it seems to have worked well. We are planting covercrops before the peas & the Sugarbeet to try & increase the organic matter in our very sandy soil.
How might your area farmed and cropping change over the next 10 years?
I’m afraid my crystal ball seems to be playing up at the moment!
Land around us very seldom comes up for sale & if it does it is very competitive to try & get. We have, I believe, a good 5 year rotation with no one crop having a monopoly over another. I would love to have a go at growing something totally different, but what that might be I have no idea!
What innovations (e.g. precision ag, renewable technologies etc.) do you use on your farm?
We have recently started to move the farm towards precision agriculture by installing a RTK GPS steering system to our tractor
We have coupled this with our fertiliser spreader by having our fields nutrient mapped & applying nutrients to the areas of the fields where they are required as opposed to blanket application.
Also we changed our sprayer last year to include auto shutoff. After one year I think we are seeing savings of around 5% on inputs just by being more accurate.
I have a small drone which I use for a number of things including pigeon scaring & drainage mapping, I hope in the future I will be able to use it for nutrient mapping of crops prior to spreading fertiliser.
What new technologies and innovations would you like to see developed for your farm in the future, and why?
I would like to see GM rebranded to undo the horrible launch it was given all those years ago by Monsanto. The acronym GMO has a horrible stigma attached to it most of which is fueled by conspiracy theory. I think that there can be a future for GM if the right traits are targeted. Disease/Flood/Drought tolerant varieties could be vital in the future. However I don’t believe it is something I will be using during my career.
Please could you explain why R&D into crop production, yield and agronomy are important to your business  
R&D is vital to carry on taking farming forward, whether that be variety choices or active ingredients we have to keep pushing forward. I think it will be interesting to see given the current prices & glut of arable commodities whether farmers may start selecting for traits other than outright yield. Yield & profit are two very different things & if cost of production can be reduced at the cost of little yield I would be interested.
What are the big issues on your farm/for your farming business?
Flooding is one of our big issues. We try to keep a five year rotation which involves planting winter crops onto the flood plain, although we try to limit the winter crop down there it is an inevitability.
Market Volatility is also an issue you can be £5/tonne plus of minus if you ring in the morning as opposed to the afternoon. Historically you used to get a price at harvest & could add £1/tonne for each month you could store it.
What issues do you see facing farmers over the next decade?
Consumer Education – I see this as a huge challenge, reengaging the consumer with their food.  Consumers don’t know (or even care) about where there food comes from.
Water Availability
Phosphate vulnerable zones
Loss of key active ingredients with no new ones coming through to replace them
What are the future opportunities that you see for British farmers?
I think that as a generalisation the agriculture sector could be in for a few tough years, but adversity tends to bring around opportunity.
It’s being brave & to a degree wise enough to take the right risks. Now is not a time for burying your head in the sand & hoping oversupply & low prices will blow over.
On a smaller scale I still think there are plenty of niche markets that can be explored & am hoping to find one myself!
CropTec 2015:
Want to find out more about your cropping choices for 2016, R&D and the latest innovation and technology? make sure to visit CropTec 2015.
In addition to the free advice on offer in our topical and technical seminars, there will be numerous exhibitors you can talk. We have introduced a new Crop establishment area of CropTec which is designed to help you boost yields further and reduce those all important unit costs of production
To encourage knowledge exchange among the British farming community further, this year’s event is FREE for farmers to attend. You MUST pre-register online to ensure you receive your free place.
General pre-registered admission: £12, all visitors will charged £15 on the gate on the day of the event.

Sophia Hussain

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