Overcoming the many obstacles is a tricky task
For the fifth article in our
series profiling farmers
weeklys 1999 barometer
farms, Andrew Blake visits
THERE is no shortage of restrictions on arable farming at Restronguet Barton Farm and the adjoining land share-farmed by Matthew and Paul Dale in partnership with grandfather Dudley and father Oliver.
Small, steep fields, drought-prone soil and a relatively moist climate are only the starters on the 300ha (740 acre) coastal unit near Falmouth. Hedge and tree preservation orders prevent the brothers achieving economies of scale. Frequent wind and surrounding villages severely limit spraying windows and operations like linseed straw burning.
Rainfall averages about 36in (900mm) a year. "But our medium loam over shale is free-draining and dries out quite badly in the summer," says Matthew. There is no irrigation. "With our climate and small fields we dont get the work rates they do in the east," adds Paul.
The 249ha (615 acres) of arable includes catchcrop ryegrass and maize. The balance is in longer term grass leys for the 120-cow dairy herd and followers.
Cropping is mainly winter wheat with a fair area of linseed as main break. "We cant grow second wheats because of take-all," says Matthew. "We have done well with peas in the past – up to 2.25t/acre. But we cant afford the harvest risks any more. Two years ago we didnt cut them until Sept 26 because the weather broke and they averaged only 0.75t/acre."
Uncontrollable chocolate spot rules out beans, though oats may be introduced for home-rolling. Lupins have twice disappointed.
Malting barley samples are usually possible, but other local options like bulbs and early potatoes need huge investment and the market for cauliflowers is too fickle to be attractive. That said, a barley-for-potatoes land swap deal with a neighbour helps boost the first wheat area.
There is no oilseed rape because it could encourage club root on land which might eventually be needed for winter cauliflowers.
The moist climate means crops ripen late, another reason why spring rape is avoided. Linseed can be late but doesnt shed like rape, Matthew says. "We rarely cut winter barley before Aug 1 and have only once combined wheat below 15% moisture. Drying bills can be quite steep."
This year glyphosate will probably be used pre-harvest on all the cereals. "It is much cheaper than it used to be and should increase our work rates and help control weeds. But above all the savings in drying costs should pay for it."
Two mobile driers and up to 1200t of bin and on-floor storage help avoid forced harvest sales. Occasional export opportunities arise through Truro and Falmouth docks, but usually the brothers rely on a broker for marketing.
"Some people may question why we grow cereals and suggest that we should concentrate on grass. But we average over 3t/acre of wheat and can hit 4t."
Quota price and infrastructure rule out major dairy expansion, says Paul. "If prices are so cheap why isnt everyone doing it?"
• 249ha arable
• Cropping ha
• Wheat 80
• S linseed 58
• W barley 23
• W linseed 18
• Maize 18
• Temp grass 15
• S barley 14
• Set-aside 23
• Small steep fields.
• Coastal influence.
Matthew (left) and Paul Dale face conditions very different to those of their eastern counterparts. Their coastal units have steep fields and plenty of hedges and trees. The coming eclipse may provide another temporary crop, but both are wary of current offers.
Older variety performs well
MUCH of the Restronguet land is on a peninsula and the soil tends to be acid. Sea sand is used as a cheap liming material.
Variety choice reflects the unusual conditions with local experience outweighing NIAB list information. "Our mild winters and damp springs and early summers can cause all sorts of disease problems with tender varieties like Brigadier and Riband," says Matthew.
"Our main feed wheat is Hunter. It works for us." Near neighbour and FW Arable Focus writer James Hosking relies on another supposedly outclassed variety, Hussar, he notes. "Reaper was a disaster last year. We never use more than 150 units/acre of N, but it went as flat as a pancake."
Other wheats this year are Abbot, for milling, after potatoes and free-tillering Drake for fields vulnerable to rabbit damage. Fanfare winter barley replaces Regina which does not seem to suit the land.
Sowing, with the farms power harrow/drill combination, never starts before Oct to avoid crops getting too proud and mildew-ridden and to reduce BYDV risk.
The Dales lean heavily on Profarmas James Stuart for agronomy advice. He has walked the family farm for nearly 20 years. Paul does most of the spraying with an 1800litre 18m (60ft) boom conventional sprayer. Bubble jets may be introduced this season to counter drift.
Some of the share-farmed land is remarkably weed-free, a legacy of widespread bulb-growing, suggests Matthew. Elsewhere docks and patches of wild oats merit most attention. Blackgrass is unknown.
"We dont often have to spray more than once against BYDV because of the later sowing," says Mr Stuart. "But disease pressure is so much greater here and we get so few chances to spray that recommendations have to be much more robust. Split PGR programmes tend to fall apart."
Last seasons flag leaf treatments were more akin to ear washes, notes Matthew.
CEREALS genetically modified to eliminate operations such as blanket insecticide spraying would be very welcome on the farm, says Paul.
"But we could shoot ourselves in the foot with GM crops if we are not more careful with our customers," warns Matthew. "In practical terms such crops would make our job a lot easier, but they are likely to place us in the grip of large companies."
TOURISTS attracted to the area by next summers total eclipse of the sun are another potential crop to be tapped. Offers of £2500/ha (£1000/acre) for land for temporary accommodation are being made. But Matthew says fields camped on by thousands of people in poor weather could be badly damaged. "We are keeping an open mind." *