• Andrew Ward
  • Glebe Farm, Leadenham, Lincolnshire

As someone who does nearly all the spraying and half the drilling and combining on the 650ha (1606 acre) all-arable Roy Ward (Farms) business, Andrew Ward admits to being “stretched” at times.

Besides dealing with its office work, he conducts field trials, has twice hosted the Cereals event, sits on an HGCA committee and shares tactics on cutting field establishment costs. Yet he has only one full-time employee.

His detailed records highlighting significant differences in the costs of cultivating the farm’s clay and heath land, show he is well prepared to cope with a key challenge facing arable farming – rocketing fuel prices.

“I used to average fuel use on any tractor in relation to the implement it pulled. But I didn’t think this was accurate enough,” says Mr Ward.

So from this year he has proportioned them to each tractor and machine, his whole system being minimum tillage-based using mainly Simba machines.

“It’s amazing to see how much the same tractor/implement combination can differ on various soil types.”

His range of soils merits three distinct rotations:

  • Heavy clay: Oilseed rape – wheat – wheat
  • Medium land: Sugar beet – wheat – HO,LL osr (or spring beans) – wheat
  • Heath land: Sugar beet – spring (malting) barley – HO,LL osr – wheat

First wheats after rape average 11.5t/ha.

Recently introduced premium-earning HO,LL rape, Splendor, took advantage of the fact that the sugar beet land had never grown rape.

“We’ve done 80t/ha of beet on the heath which won’t sustain second wheats.” However, current pricing makes the crop is increasingly “marginal”.

For several years sewage sludge has helped raise soil nutrient indices and reduce fertiliser costs. No bagged P or K fertiliser has been used on the heavy land for seven years.

“It’s given us massive savings and with its organic matter and trace elements it’s ‘win/win’.”

He used to be unconvinced of the value of soil N tests, but recently FACTS-qualified he has revived them with “surprising results” leading to several trials.

He also conducts 2ha strip comparisons for early guidance on the oilseed rape variety performance and is a member of the HGCA oilseeds committee.

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With blackgrass “a constant battle” much of his late-to-harvest spring beans area has being switched to HO,LL rape allowing more time to create “vital stale seed-beds”. Wheat drilling rarely begins before 20 September.

A well-bought 9m (30ft) cut New Holland CR980 combine is somewhat over-capacity, he admits. But it means the continuous-flow drier hasn’t been needed for three seasons.

“At harvest we try to be patient,” he says. “It means we don’t have to start combining when it’s wet. But we can push on and still do 120 acres a day, and we’ve got the capacity to pick up contract work.”

He believes GPS controls will inevitably be integrated into his system but not on his four-year old sprayer until it needs replacing.

His marketing policy is to spread risks, selling to five merchants increasingly on a “forward” basis, and using options depending on information from a range of sources.

Most of the farm’s ELS points come from 6m field margins – mainly of grass, with wildflower mixtures used where the public has access. “We might have sown more wildflowers, but the seed cost is £800/ha – grass is only £50.”

However, despite higher grain prices, Mr Ward insists the margins will remain.

WHAT THE JUDGES LIKED

  • Andrew’s enthusiasm for arable farming and desire to remain profitable through tight costs control
  • His analytical approach to machinery use
  • His eagerness to improve the business by exploiting rotational opportunities and through on-farm trials – clearly reflected in his crops
  • His use of field margins highlighting his ability to balance farming and environmental pressures
  • His leadership in hosting Cereals 2004 and 2008, chairing an arable benchmarking group and being a min-till ambassador

FARM FACTS

  • 638ha part owned, rented and contracted
  • Three distinct soil types
  • Annual rainfall: 610mm
  • Cropping: Wheat, oilseed rape, sugar beet, spring beans, spring barley