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Brian Hammond

12 June 1998

FARMERFOCUS

Brian Hammond

Brian Hammond is farm

manager for Carnreagh

Farms at the 182ha (450-

acre) Ballyalloly Farm,

Comber, Co Down where he

grows 50ha (125 acres) of

potatoes as well as cereals

and oilseed rape

POTATO planting finished on May 25 which is two days later than our 11-year average. This year the majority of the fields are on the heavy side and some of the land ploughed at Easter had heavy rain on it. Although dry and friable on the top, the soil was still like thick porridge underneath so the only cure was to re-plough it and start again.

A lot of patience, time and diesel was needed to produce a decent seed-bed, but our patience was rewarded with the best planting conditions we have ever managed on this heavy land. Our potato agronomist, Dr Eric Allen, assures us that heavy land produces potatoes of superior skin finish. Does this mean that where I got stuck they will come out like billiard balls?

This spring good spraying days have been very scarce and it has been difficult to complete spraying programmes at optimum timings. However, like the potato planting, the weather came right in the end and at the time of writing, cereal spraying is all but complete.

Amistar (azoxystrobin) will be the backbone of all cereal fungicide programmes. Last year we used it on several field trails and it produced outstanding results against triazole only programmes.

Winter barley received 0.8 litres/ha Amistar + 0.5 litres/ha propiconazole (Tilt) at T2. This followed Punch C (carbendazim + flusilazole) at 0.4 litres/ha + Torch (spiroxamine) at 0.75 litres/ha as a late T1 spray.

For winter wheat T1 was Sportak Delta (cyproconazole + prochloraz) at 0.75 litres/ha, followed by Amistar at 0.8 litres/ha + Opus (epoxiconazole) at 0.3 litres/ha for the T2. A further 0.75 litres/ha Amistar is planned for ear emergence. Winter oats have also had 0.8litres/ha Amistar at flag leaf emergence.

The sprayer has been through the osr at petal fall to control mealy aphids, and apply a half-rate of Folicur (tebuconazole). Our sprayer booms rise to 2.40m (8ft) which was only just enough to clear the top of our Apex – we have never had rape as strong as this before.

Trevor Horsnell

Trevor Horsnell, a former

Sugar Beet Grower of the

Year, part owns and rents

182ha (450 acres) at

Gorrells Farm, Highwood,

Chelmsford, Essex. Besides

beet, his cropping includes

potatoes and winter wheat,

barley and oilseed rape

ONCE upon a time there lived a happy, contented farmer who spent the long, early summer days relaxing and recharging his batteries ready for harvest. Then he did a silly thing. In order to grow bigger and better crops of potatoes like all his friends, he built a reservoir and bought some irrigation equipment. Not content with this he rented some more land a few miles away and bought more equipment. Nowadays, come the start of harvest, this farmer is a nervous and physical wreck having worked from dawn till dusk, seven days a week.

Irrigation for scab control on the first planted potatoes started on May 18, just five days after we finished planting the rest. The late plantings have emerged rapidly and recent showers should have activated residual herbicide metribuzin (Lexone) as well as sidelining the irrigator.

Sugar beet made spectacular growth and were closed across the rows by June 3, the earliest for some years. Weed control seems to have been good and relatively cheap at approximately £45/ha, excluding any clopyralid (Dow Shield) for volunteer potato control.

Flag leaf sprays on the wheats were either Epic (epoxiconazole), or Epic + Amistar (azoxystrobin), with Folicur (tebuconazole) being applied to the 6m (19.7ft) buffer zones. Ear emergence sprays have now commenced on the Soissons with Amistar or Folicur.

We had our visit from the verifier for the Assured Combinable Crops Scheme and only have eight minor points to rectify, mainly recording operations such as cleaning grain trailers – they have not needed to be cleaned so far, so obviously no records. Little interest was shown in what chemicals we applied or at what rate.

I must admit to being somewhat intrigued at some of the costs being claimed in the Unit Cost Challenge. I must be going to the wrong dealers for I have been unable to obtain "no cost" implements or tractors with "Zero maintenance or repair costs" anywhere.

Ian Brown

Ian Brown is a third

generation tenant on the

156ha (385-acre) Lee Moor

Farm, Rennington, Alnwick,

Northumberland where he

grows winter wheat, barley

and oilseed rape as well as

spring peas

YET again the weather has been playing havoc with spraying and fertilising plans – we had another 120mm (15in) of rain last week. Having said that, we did manage flag leaf sprays on three fields of Consort at the end of the week applying Gladio (fenpropidin + propiconazole + tebuconazole) at 0.5 litres/ha, + 0.75 litres/ha Clortosip (chlorothalonil) + 1.5kg/ha magnesium oxide, in 100 litres/ha of water.

In a joint deal with a neighbour, we have bought new row crop wheels for the John Deere 6600 spraying tractor, which are at last in use.

We are about to put 125kg/ha (100 units/acre) of nitrogen on Rialto for grain quality. Alan, who works for us, has been on a soil course laid on by the North Northumberland Agricultural Training Association. We are even keener to learn to farm smarter since we now receive a 50% training grant on all courses undertaken, using European 5b monies.

Our inspection for farm assurance is next week, so I am organising new lights for the grain shed and have served eviction notices on the limited number of mice who are squatting in our grain store – our pest control company is on the case.

I have been on my hind feet again frightening farmers from as far away as Yorkshire and Norfolk with my prediction of the future being tinged green – that is environmental green. Sainsbury have agreed to sponsor the Farming Wildlife Advisory Group to do a biodiversity audit on my farm. We would like to see red squirrel, partridge and skylarks increase and will possibly alter our habitat accordingly.

Will this alter the safety or quality of the crops we produce? No, but it does bolster my argument that modern integrated crop management, using fertiliser out of the bag, and agrochemicals, is the only way to feed the world in a way that does not degrade the environment.

Jim Bullock

Jim Bullock farms 283ha

(700 acres) in partnership

with his parents and brother

at Mill Farm, Guarlford,

Malvern, Worcs. Two-thirds

is rented or contract farmed,

the rest owned. Cropping is

winter wheat, winter oilseed

rape and winter beans

THIS really has been a season of contrasts. In early spring we were struggling to get more than a few hours spraying, yet all the past fortnight has been near ideal spraying weather to the extent that we have completed the T2 spray on the wheats at the optimum time for once.

There has been very little disease in the wheat other than septoria. We always expect to find some mildew in Riband and Hereward but as yet none has appeared. However, I am finding the odd patch of BYDV in some earlier drilled Rialto. Despite an autumn applied aphicide it was obviously reinfected during the mild winter.

To date we have applied our allocation of Amistar (azoxystrobin) mixed with Opus (epoxiconazole) to the first wheats. Other wheats have received our standard Folicur/Bravo (tebuconazole/chlorothalonil) mixture, which always does a good job controlling septoria.

The Target winter beans are covered in flowers but few pods have set to date, mainly because we are so short of bees. Our local bee-keepers lost most of their bees during the mild weather in February; instead of hibernating or doing whatever bees do during the winter, they went our foraging, couldnt find enough food, and starved to death, despite being fed in their hives.

To hear that Banbury Market is to close is yet another blow to British agriculture. But listening to farms minister, Jack Cunningham, you are led to believe that all is well in the countryside. Having recently visited China, he seems to think British agricultures problems can be solved by exporting a few tonnes of malting barley and some ducks to a nation, that by all accounts, is more financially pressed than we are. There are one or two farmers and the odd person employed, or soon to become unemployed, in the ancillary industries who may disagree.

Brian Hammonds sprayer was just able to clear this crop of Apex to apply Folicur and an aphicide at petal fall. Rape has never been as strong at Ballyalloly Farm, he says

Northumberland farmer Ian Brown is keener than ever to train staff and management, especially since a 50% grant using European money has been available.

Early summer used to be a time to recharge the batteries for Trevor Horsnell. But now the work-load is non-stop. This year, scab control irrigation started only five days after the last potato crop was planted.

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Brian Hammond

15 May 1998

Brian Hammond

Brian Hammond is farm

manager for Carnreagh

Farms at the 182ha (450-

acre) Ballyalloly Farm,

Comber, Co Down where he

grows 50ha (125 acres) of

potatoes as well as cereals

and oilseed rape

BACK in February I had a conversation with my father, discussing the lush growth of crops and grass. He assured me that winter would come, and how right he was. January weather returned on Good Friday when the thermometer read -7C (19F) and we had 8cm (3in) of snow on Easter Tuesday. Inclement as the weather has been we have escaped the floods that other parts of the country had.

Although spraying has been difficult we have managed to complete plant growth regulator and first fungicide programmes without going too far past optimum timings.

All nitrogen has been applied for the season. Amounts have been pegged back a little from previous years.

Winter wheat had 181kg/ha (145 unit/acre), winter barley 169kg/ha (135 unit/acre) and winter oats 106kg/ha (85 unit/acre). Amounts have been matched to fertility by field and even within some fields to take account of known fertility or the lack of it.

While completing the various fungicide programmes set out for me by agronomist Bruce Steele, I noticed some of the rates had been worked out to three decimal places. The days of throwing a couple of cans in to the sprayer tank have long gone.

All crops look well but nothing exceptional. The effects of the cold snap, although alarming at the time, have probably done good. Barley and wheat now have a good spring to them, whereas before Easter they were soft and floppy. I have seen barley lodged and heard of wheat down too.

The frost has killed off a few pods of Apex OSR but there is more than enough set since. Snow on OSR in full flower is probably the strangest sight I have ever seen.

We made a start planting potatoes with a pre-pack crop of Dunbar Standards on Bank Holiday Monday. This is the same date as 1992 – that year we finished at the end of May in brilliant conditions and produced some very good crops.

The days of throwing a couple of cans of product into the sprayer are long gone, notes Brian Hammond.Recommendations on his County Down farm now run to three decimal places.

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Brian Hammond

20 March 1998

Brian Hammond

Brian Hammond is farm

manager for Carnreagh

Farms at the 182ha (450-

acre) Ballyalloly Farm,

Comber, Co Down where he

grows 50ha (125 acres) of

potatoes as well as cereals

and oilseed rape

AN INCH of snow on the last day of February came just in time to slow things down a bit. Summer-like weather earlier in the month meant crops were in danger of overheating. As it is, OSR looks as if it will be in full flower by Easter.

Winter barley was also giving some concern. By the end of February growth stage was dictating an early start to applications of nitrogen, pgr and fungicide to control mildew.

But starting in late February would have been complete folly. All subsequent timings, especially for fungicides, would have needed moving forward too, leaving the crop at risk nearer harvest.

Traditionally, first nitrogen application on winter barley has not been until the second or third week of March. And for years now we have adopted the principle that once you start a crop growing you must keep it going with a maximum of three weeks between first and second nitrogen application or 2.5kg N/ha (2 units N/acre) a day.

Fertilising and spraying will be simpler this year with the purchase of a second Kane Lightfoot LGP vehicle. Our original Lightfoot, bought new and now in its 10th season, was starting to show its age.

The machine we have bought was just a chassis cab belonging to the electricity service to which we have fitted a second hand Lely sprayer. The 18m (58ft) aluminium booms have been extended to 20m (65.6ft). Total cost was around £6000.

During the spring, the older machine will be used to spread fertiliser and the new one for spraying, thus saving a lot of hassle changing from the spreader to the sprayer and back again.

Once all top dressing has been completed, we will run both machines in spraying mode. This will give us enough capacity, in theory, to spray all cereals in one day, and blight spray all potatoes in one afternoon.

Speedy sprayer…Brian Hammonds new 20m LGPcost £6000. Working alongside an existing machine, all cereals can now be sprayed in just one day.

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Brian Hammond

23 January 1998

Brian Hammond

Brian Hammond is farm

manager for Carnreagh

Farms at the 182ha (450-

acre) Ballyalloly Farm,

Comber, Co Down, where he

grows 50ha (125 acres) of

potatoes as well as cereals

and oilseed rape

MUCK, muck, glorious muck. Much, if not all, our spare time in the winter months is spent carting 3000-4000t of FYM.

The reason for this massive operation is our potato acreage. I have not mentioned this before, but apart from 200t of Record on a crisping contract, our entire crop is grown without the use of chemical fertilisers, with all nutrients coming from FYM.

The crop is in fact chemical fertiliser-free and marketed as such. This niche market we supply has been very successful for ourselves and our packers (Wilsons Country) who, in 1996 won The Ballygowan Good Food Award, judged by the Irish Guild of Food Writers.

With no livestock on the farm it is therefore necessary to cart FYM from near and far. It is piled up in several locations around the farm and spread in the spring before ploughing in, ready for the following crop of potatoes.

In cost terms, fertiliser would probably be cheaper after all the time, wear and tear are taken into account. There is, however, a big benefit for subsequent cereal crops with improved soil structure and fertility.

Cereal yields have risen steadily in fields which have had two or three potato crops over the last 10 years, whereas, in fields deemed unsuitable for potatoes, they have declined. FYM is much better than anything you can get from a bag or a bottle. It is, in my opinion, the elixir of life for soil.

The storm on Christmas Eve caused some minor damage, the worst of which was the removal of the polythene sheet from our chilling tunnel, which, after six years, was ready for replacement anyway.

Nineteen-ninety-eight started the same as 1997 ended – very wet and very windy. The last time this happened, according to John Kettley, was 1976. That should cheer most potato growers up. &#42

Stockpiling muck is the main winter activity at Ballyalloly Farm, N Ireland. Potatoes are the immediate beneficiaries, but subsequent crops enjoy a better soil structure and nutrient boost too, says Brian Hammond.

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Brian Hammond

26 December 1997

Brian Hammond

Brian Hammond is farm

manager for Carnreagh

Farms at the 182ha (450-

acre) Ballyalloly Farm,

Comber, Co Down where he

grows 50ha (125 acres) of

potatoes as well as cereals

and oilseed rape

TALKING to my friends and neighbours lately, the conversation often goes something like this: "Twenty years ago you could get the same money for crops as today, but now it costs twice as much to grow."

A little research revealed a comparison much more extreme. My great grandfather, John Goddard, farmed on Rendlesham Estate, Suffolk, in the late 19th century. One of the crops he grew successfully was white clover for seed. When the clover was good, which it often was, he received £1/lb, the same price it is today. But input costs have risen dramatically.

So, back to the present century. The wheat has come through well, giving excellent stands in all but a couple of small patches that flooded. Sowing wheat in November can sometimes be a bit of a lottery, but not this year. The last field only took 20 days to emerge thanks to some mild, if not very wet conditions at the end of November.

The sprayer was quite busy before the weather broke. Oilseed rape has been sprayed with Kerb (metaza-chlor) to control volunteer barley and some rampant chickweed.

For the Gerald winter oats we have tried out Lexus Class (flupyrsulfuron-methyl + carfentrazone-ethyl). It seems to have worked well and could be used on other cereals in the future. Although a little on the expensive side, it is kind to the crop and suits our weed spectrum well.

A tank mix of IPU, DFF + cypermethrin worked well in the winter barley, but proved a bit too "hot" for one field of Regina. Fortunately, the mild weather has helped it recover.

As the year draws to a close I would like to wish everyone a Happy Christmas and a more prosperous New Year. Also, thanks to my wife Anne for putting up with me and the long hours for another year! &#42

Crop prices are little different to 20 years ago, but input costs have soared. Brian Hammond wants to know why.

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Brian Hammond

28 November 1997

Brian Hammond

Brian Hammond is farm

manager for Carnreagh

Farms at the 182ha (450-

acre) Ballyalloly Farm,

Comber, Co Down where he

grows 50ha (125 acres) of

potatoes as well as cereals

and oilseed rape

POTATO harvest finished on Nov 3 and the wheat was all drilled the following morning, thanks to our contractors who came in close behind us – I thought they were going to overtake me a couple of times.

With gross yields of about 37t/ha (15t/acre) and a low baker fraction, the potatoes have been disappointing this year, despite considerable effort and expense to achieve the required quality.

Everything got off to a good start in April. Planting progressed steadily in the best conditions I have ever known. The soil was warm and dry and easily worked. Then on May Bank Holiday weekend everything started to go wrong, with 64mm (2.5in) of freezing rain plus night frost.

More deluges followed through May and June, giving almost 300mm (12in) of rain in eight weeks. Seed was slow to emerge and never really got going. Hollows and poorly drained areas never emerged at all.

Even though potatoes dislike such conditions weeds seem to thrive. Herbicide timing was difficult and Titus (rimsulfuron) proved ineffective, especially against knot-grass, which completely took over in some fields.

Then there was the blight- but thats another story. To rub salt into the wound, these conditions appeared to have been localised. Travelling 20 miles in any direction, yields and quality have been excellent. It all goes to prove that following agronomic procedures to the letter is not enough. You still need a little luck as well.

Last Thursday we had a meeting with our potato packers (Wilsons Country), whom we have always found to be fair and helpful, to discuss varieties for next year. After a disappointing season it would be easy to make sweeping changes. Following much debate it was decided to stick with Navan and Pentland Dell, cut the area of Dunbar Standards (an old favourite grown here), and try some Cultra and Maris Piper. &#42

Despite every effort, spuds have been a disappointment for Brian Hammond this year, failing to deliver yield or a big baker fraction.

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Brian Hammond

31 October 1997

Brian Hammond

Brian Hammond is farm

manager for Carnreagh

Farms at the 182ha (450-

acre) Ballyalloly Farm,

Comber, Co Down where he

grows 50ha (125 acres) of

potatoes as well as cereals

and oilseed rape

HARVEST finished on Sep 12 – not our easiest but not particularly difficult either. Yields, though not yet known exactly, will be on a par with last year. My only real gripe is the price and low bushel weight in the wheat, ranging from 70 to 72kg/hl.

One field sprayed with Amistar (azoxystrobin), however, averaged 75kg/hl. With a little careful blending we might just scrape the minimum requirement of 72kg and avoid deductions.

Cropping for 1998 will include oilseed rape, making a return after five years. 14ha (34 acres) of Apex was drilled by Aug 29. Seed rate of 5kg/ha was sown into a fine but slightly soft seed-bed. Emergence took only seven days and produced a very even stand of 120 plants/sq m. The crop is now 30cm (1ft) tall and is due for its herbicide. Incidentally, rape, I notice, is the only commodity to have increased in value since August.

Winter barley sowing started on Sep 24 into land previously ploughed and which had dried quite hard. The ground was rolled and then sowed with a power harrow/drill combination. In two fields where the straw was burnt (still legal here, if not environmentally friendly) the seed-bed was much finer, a fact I must try to remember next harvest if straw prices do not pick up. Pastoral and Regina, both dressed, with Baytan (fuberidazole + triadimenol) were sown at 125kg/ha (1cwt/acre).

Contractors did the complete ploughing and sowing at the Carnreagh Farm and are due to start sowing wheat after potatoes at Comber. We used to do all our own sowing, but with potato lifting and autumn sowing clashing, it is difficult to be slave to two masters.

Potato lifting has been a stop-start affair. First it was too dry, then too wet. A combination of rock hard conditions, high dry matter and a susceptible variety, resulted in severe bruising. The problem came to a head when a load was returned to the farm, the first time this has happened in 10 years of growing potatoes.

Potato rejection due to bruising during rocky lifting conditions has been an unwelcome first for NIreland farmer Brian Hammond this season.

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