Former Farmers Weekly Farmer of the Year Robert Law farms 1200ha (3000 acres) on the Herts/Cambs/Essex borders growing cereals peas, forage rape for seed and sugar beet. He also manages 500ha (1200 acres) of Notts sandland.

Last week’s trip – largely driven – from Inverness to Hertfordshire gave me the chance to have a good look at farming over that route all in a day.

Winter cereals seemed at a similar growth stage throughout the journey and generally looked good and even.

Winter oilseed rapes were mixed, with many crops patchy and uneven, slugs obviously taking their toll and pigeons still active.

But it was obvious that any ground that could be cropped was in production and I saw little land standing idle.

I noted a big increase in the area of spring barley, particularly in Scotland where they were still sowing. In our Royston area it has replaced several failed winter rape crops.

I only know of one linseed grower this year, and I declined an offer of nearly £500/t to sow a seed crop.

We have just received some GPS soil maps for P, K and magnesium on our home farm. This is the third time the land has been mapped since we started using the technique in 1993 as a “guinea pig”, and we have used variable rate spreading biannually since then.

Back in 1993 single fields on our undulating chalk downland had P and K soil indices ranging from 1 to 5 while magnesium levels were all low.

Over the years we have managed to even up all our fields so that they are almost all twos and threes.

We can now consider overall field applications again and also the occasional PK holiday where practical.

With talk next year that phosphate prices could reach £600/t, this technique has been well worthwhile.

Given fertiliser prices, and further rises likely, we are seeing a lot more interest in alternatives and demand for composts and other wastes increasing sharply.

law@thrift.freeserve.co.uk