Robert Morre in a field© Steffan Hill

As the farm is quiet right now, I have been reviewing its performance.

Over the past few years, there has been much talk about our soils, how to make the most of them and how to gain a better understanding of what goes on within them.

This is an area I know I am weak in, so with that in mind, a couple of years ago I embarked on what I hoped would be a soil improvement programme for my farm.

I enlisted the help of a soil advisory service which took numerous samples and produced a very detailed report. This has shown a number of deficiencies but also some areas where nutrients are locked up.

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Clearly, there is an imbalance in some fields, which I hope I am correcting with specialist fertilisers, soil conditioners and organic manure.

Not a cheap option, but one I feel I have to try, to achieve better results and make the farm more sustainable.

I do think this year’s crops are looking healthier than previous years, but maybe that is just wishful thinking.

Another area I want to examine more closely is cost of production. 

This has irritated me for some years as our input costs keep increasing, but prices for our end product never seem to compensate.

Fertiliser, in particular, having dropped well back in price some months ago has inexplicably shot back up again, much more so than the price of grain.

We have an arable business development group in this area funded through our Rural Development Programme and we have recently started looking at costs.

This threw up a wide range of input costs but, interestingly, the highest costs did not necessarily produce the highest gross margin. Is this a fertility issue or a different management approach?

This needs further investigation, but co-operation like this between farmers can only be a benefit for all involved and I think will be increasingly important in the future.

In the meantime, as soon as the weather settles a bit I will be hoping to get some top dressing done and endeavour to get the crops off to an early start.

Robert Moore farms on the Molenan Estate in Northern Ireland, where his family have farmed for more than 200 years. He switched to arable production in the late 1990s, away from beef and sheep. He still has a small suckler herd on non-suitable arable land.