5 June 1998

A productive farm, but height and topography are a constraint

The farm

THE farm is in south-west Herefordshire by the Welsh border. Total acreage is 391ha (966 acres), of which 215ha (531 acres) is arable, 127ha (314 acres) is permanent grazing and 45ha (111 acres) is woodland.

Land rises from 130m (430ft) to 300m (1000ft) above sea level and includes, flat, undulating and steep land. Most of the permanent pasture is unsuitable for ploughing and the arable area is split roughly into two – 134ha (330 acres) of it below 150m (500ft) and the rest on thin, undulating ground between 240 and 300m (800 and 1000ft). The permanent grassland is between the two.

Labour force: This consists of the manager Simon Quan and two full-time workers, one employed mainly on the arable side and the other looking after stock operations. Casual labour is employed at peak times.

Soils are derived from old red sandstone (with some glacial deposit origin) and vary between grade 1 and grade 3. Most are classified as sandy loams but there are great variations in clay content, even within fields. Most of the low-lying soils are prone to slumping, especially in wet winters. On the steeper slopes soil depth is 300mm (1ft) at most and a cobalt/selenium deficiency causes increased veterinary bills. One or two fields are so steep that fertiliser can only be applied on three days of the year.

Climate: The land is mostly south-facing but exposed. Annual rainfall is 750mm (29in) and in dry summers the thin soil on some slopes causes burning-off of grazing.

Arable

The arable ground is all registered, currently growing all first wheats and using break crops of oilseed rape, beans herbage seeds and potatoes (on ground let off). Barley is grown as an entry for oilseed rape and a catch crop of turnips provides feed for the sheep before spring beans. Malting barley has been tried but Simon Quan says that unreliable prices have blunted its appeal.

Cropping for 1998 consists of 89ha (220 acres) of winter wheat, 36ha (89 acres) of winter barley, 30ha (74 acres) of spring beans, 28ha (69 acres) of oilseed rape, 12ha (30 acres) of potatoes and 16ha (39 acres) of herbage seed.

Average yields are 9.4t/ha (3.8t/acre) for winter wheat, 6.2t/ha (2.5t/acre) for winter barley, 3.7t/ha (1.5t/acre) for oilseed rape and 5t/ha (2t/acre) for spring beans. Some of the best yields have come from the highest fields, where disease pressure is lower.

Land let out for potato growing attracts a worthwhile premium; this area could be increased but harvesting late or in poor conditions can cause soil compaction problems for the next six years. The farm has also considered doing its own seed potato production on land above 800ft – however, considerable investment in contractors would be needed and the potential margins are probably too small to justify it.

The significant acreage of woodland means that deer can be a problem, says the farm manager. There is also a huge badger population but no TB problems (though it is on neighbouring farms).

Livestock

The 127ha (314 acres) of grassland, mostly old permanent leys on steep ground, supports a flock of 850 ewes and a single suckler herd of 99 cows. The suckler cows -mainly Hereford/Friesian crosses with Charolais bulls – calve from February onwards. All progeny are finished on the farm during the following winter and summer and are sold deadweight.

The sheep flock of 850 ewes is split into 250 early-lambers reared intensively indoors and 600 April-lambing ewes finished on grass or on catch crops during the winter.

The only silage is from spare grass. There are no leys specifically for silage. Some of the older pastures have been slot-seeded clover (with partial success) and renewal of fencing is a continuous process.

Machinery

Main machines are 135hp Ford 8360 and 125hp Ford 8240 tractors, New Holland TX34 combine, JCB 526 telescopic, Manitou triple mast loader and JCB 3C MkII excavator, and a full range of cultivations, forage, spraying, fertilising and trailer equipment. Work put out to contractors includes ploughing, baling, muckspreading and hedging. Otherwise all operations are carried out by farm staff.

Buildings

Grain facilities: A purpose-built 1000t grainstore with ventilated bulk bins, 15t/hour continuous-flow drier, grain cleaner and 1t mill-and-mix unit form the main facilities. There is also a separate 400t on-floor store, half of it with a vented floor. Liquid fertiliser storage with a capacity of 60,000 litres (13,000gal) is available in a bunded steel tank.

Livestock buildings: A large, covered 68m x 30m (225ft x 100ft) livestock building with central storage for hay and straw and yards and mangers on each side for cattle and sheep housing. Also, a 60m x 14m (200ft x 45ft) extended converted machinery shed used to house part of the suckler herd in winter. A further 36m x 9m (120ft x 30ft) shed houses the rest of the suckler herd on straw yards.

There is also a purpose-built sheep handling shed, a complex of 14 stables with central courtyard used as storage sheds and some smaller buildings.

Some barns could have potential for conversion to residential use, with the owners approval.

Land rises from 130m (430ft) to 300m (1000ft) above sea level. This makes some fields suitable only for grazing and limits the students options. Should they advise the farm manager to rent more land?