1 March 2002

Farm backbone below sea level

For the last in our series

profiling farmers weeklys

barometer farms for 2002

Andrew Blake visits

County Londonderry

SEED and feed barley with whole crops for silage from land mostly at or below sea level are the arable backbone at Carse Hall, Ballykelly.

The family farm is run solely by Robert Craig, brother Thomas and father Jim who bought the 130ha (320-acre) unit in 1995, having previously farmed near Londonderry.

"We also farm another 180 acres in various parcels between three and 15 miles away." About a third of the total is grass.

Main income comes from a 120-cow Holstein herd where whole-crop silage has helped boost average milk yield from 7500 litres a year to 9500. "We have been up to 10,500 with three-times-a-day milking, but I am not prepared to do that any more," says Robert, who trained at Harper Adams University College. "It gives you no family life."

Most of this seasons grain crop of winter barley, mainly Regina with some Angela, will go for livestock feed to a local merchant.

Royalties about £20/t cheaper in Eire have had a big impact on the amount grown for seed for Mortons of Banbridge, only 15 miles from the border.

"Three years ago we had 120 acres – this year it is only 40. So this year we are growing more seed spring barley and trying Annabelle. It is said to be regionally suited to Northern Ireland, outyielding Dandy and County and having a high straw yield."

Some cereals also go for whole-crop silage, and Tanker wheat is being tried for the first time this season. "Wheat adds a different dimension to the cows guts and helps increase yields," he says.

Peas for silage are being repeated. Grown for the first time last year after a foot-and-mouth exemption allowed them to qualify for protein crop area payment, they performed well. "They have been very good for the cows." Sowing a small amount (15kg/ha) of barley with the pulse this spring will guarantee cereal aid, he notes.

Maize is another potential crop. But disposing of the black plastic needed to get it off to a good start in the area makes it unattractive. Ploughing the soil-warming covering down on the already tricky land could lead to drainage problems, he believes.

About 10ha (25 acres) is let for potato growing each year, but this seasons area has been doubled with some of the outlying land coming into the crop.

For spraying the farms Case 1000-litre 20m fully-mounted machine is fitted with Billericay bubblejets. These permit LERAP buffer zones to be reduced to 1m, a useful feature with most fields surrounded by dykes.

A 1995 MF32 combine supplies on-floor grain stores equipped with above ground drying ducts. After cutting had to start at 25% moisture last harvest, plans are afoot to boost drying capacity with a second-hand heating unit for the fan.

Robert Craig finds farming the former sea bed, with its shelly soils (left) is not without its crop nutrient problems.

LERAP strategy


Ha

W barley 40

S barley 36

Potatoes (let) 25

Peas 12

W wheat 11

Set-aside 12