Jack Hopkins in a field

What an honour it is to be asked to contribute to the Farmer Focus column, following the many influential farmers who have done so in the past. I only hope that as someone who is still a relative newcomer to farm management, I can provide a useful insight into relevant and topical farming issues.

The new year brings new life to us as lambing has started. We are halfway through the pedigree Suffolk flock and the commercials have just started, so busy times are ahead for us (just like a second harvest).

See also: Read more from our Farmer Focus writers

Just before Christmas we took delivery of our new ex-demonstrator combine (quite a Christmas present). Here in the West, recent years have provided enough evidence that working windows are getting narrower. This prompted us to make the decision to change our combine. A higher-output machine will help us increase production, reduce drying costs and minimise labour requirements at peak periods.

Having recently carried out our soil protection review, it reflected the work we carried out last autumn to improve our soils. More than 20% of our arable area was sub-soiled, and we carried out drainage work in the known wet areas.

Improving soil structure is firmly on our minds in this part of the country as the lasting legacy of potatoes has definitely taken its toll on the state of our soils. Rotational cultivations, cover cropping and muck-for-straw deals are all ways that we are trying to address this problem.

The latest talks of banning yet more pesticides is of great concern, in particular some of the azole fungicides. This was highlighted by a recent Andersons report, which showed how the potential loss of these products could have a devastating effect on current crop production and farm profitability.

So I urge you to take the time to respond to the EU consultation and voice your opinion on how this could affect your business.

On a more personal note, I have recently undergone my Facts training. This was an intense four-day training course with an exam at the end. Just before Christmas I found out I had passed, which I was delighted with.

Jack Hopkins is the assistant farm manager on a 730ha estate in North Herefordshire on predominantly silty clay loam soils. Cropping includes wheat, barley, oilseed rape, spring oats and peas, plus grassland that supports a flock of 1,000 ewes and 25 pedigree Hereford cattle.