5 September 1997

INTRODUCING HOST FOR 98

Risk avoidance underpins the farming activities at Haverholme Estate, venue for next years Cereals event and subject of a regular "Site Report" series in FW over the coming months. Charles Abel visited the Lincs farm to find out more

HAVERHOLME Estate has had a chequered history leading up to its present status as a Velcourt managed farm and host to the national combinable crops event, Cereals 98.

Its name derives from the ancient words Aver for port and Holme for river island. Both testify to the farms heavy, clay soils, which define current policy.

Records show that over the past 1000 years the estate has been home to Cistercian monks and a refuge to Thomas à Beckett. In the 1800s Sir Jennison Gordon, a keen gardener, planned to leave it to his favourite cousin. He changed his mind when that cousin thought silver leaved weeds merited more praise than the surrounding gardens and the land went to George William Finch Hatton instead.

In 1926 the estate was sold in Sleaford Corn Exchange and a 935ha (2290-acre) portion is now owned by the Haverholme Farm Partnership and managed by Velcourt. It is predominantly Beccles series 3 fine loam over clay, with varying amounts of clay in the top soil. It is virtually all under-drained, but is not the sort of land to take risks on, explains Velcourts regional farms director Ken Shipley.

"Our aim is to run a profitable, sustainable and environmentally friendly rotation based on mainly autumn sown crops without too much risk," he says. That philosophy drives most decisions on the farm. "Almost everything is drilled in the autumn – it is just too risky to leave until the spring." Average rainfall is 551mm (22.3in), but this year saw just 119mm (4.8in) up to the end of May, with 178mm (7.2in) in June and July.

Cropping is decided on a field by field basis. Heavier land generally has a break crop, two wheats then barley. The lighter soils have a break crop, one wheat and then two barleys.

All wheat and barley is for feed. "We cant get consistently high levels of wheat protein and the lighter land isnt even enough for malting samples," says farm manager Chris Redfearn. Wheats are split between soft milling Riband and Consort for value added markets and hard feeders Reaper, Brigadier and Beaufort.

The key break is rape, but fresh broad beans for vining also feature – the only spring sown crop on the estate.

Early October goal

Establishing 748ha (1832 acres) of winter cropping by early October is no mean feat and demands a carefully planned strategy to cope with most conditions. "The key is to get everything one step short of a seed-bed as early as possible, but in a weatherproof state," says Mr Shipley. "If it then turns very wet or dry, we know we can still achieve a seed bed and drill with just one pass."

The farm used to run power harrows, several ploughs and discs to achieve that goal. But the desire to improve weatherproofing and cut establishment costs saw a major shake-up two years ago. Out went power harrows, small cultivators, lower horsepower tractors and a man who retired was not replaced. In their place came a 325hp Challenger 75 rubber tracked crawler, a 4m Simba Mono double disc with double press and an 8m Freeflow cultivator drill.

Running alongside a high horsepower Case Magnum tractor with 6-furrow plough or 5.1m Simba Mk II discs and double press that makes for a simple, but effective cultivations system, enthuses Mr Redfearn.

"We know we have a very short window in which to cultivate and drill on this heavy land. We need bags of horsepower and we need to move quickly. It is not a farm to be working the land on after the first week of October."

Even establishment

The new system not only improves timeliness, it also gives a more evenly established crop and cuts costs, claims Mr Shipley. "We would say we have cut 15% from our establishment costs, which were pretty low anyway. We also feel more confident about reducing seed rates, given the better establishment weve seen."

The heart of the system is the Freeflow drill. "It combines two jobs in one – producing the seed-bed and drilling in one pass," explains Mr Redfearn. "That cuts costs and it also means we can leave land in a rougher state after initial cultivations, which means it can drain better if it gets wet."

How that initial rough seed-bed is prepared depends upon the previous crop and the amount of trash to dispose of. After barley the pressure is on to get a seed-bed ready for rape. "Here we dont usually use the Mono, because the tines can bring up too much clod in the tramlines. The priority is to get land worked quickly. One or two passes with the discs and press the day after combining is enough."

If a good weed chit is achieved a quick spray is followed by Freeflow rape drilling from Aug 15. Results from last autumn were impressive. "Looking at the seed-bed you would say it isnt fine enough. But using the discs just once or twice prevents the soil drying and the Freeflow seems to consolidate the seed-bed well to give very quick, even emergence. We didnt have any of the problems with crop emergence that a lot of rape growers had last autumn," comments Mr Redfearn.

"After rape well generally go through once or twice with the Mono, depending upon conditions, then follow with the disc and press. Land is then left to chit before spraying off and drilling wheat." A similar approach works for wheat after barley and second wheats. Wheat drilling starts around Sept 10.

Running behind the Challenger the Monos two sets of heavy discs work progressively deeper, while the five deep tines provide a sub-soiling effect down to 22-40cm (9-16in). "Its a severe discing, almost as effective as ploughing," says Mr Redfearn. With a double press following, the operation replaces up to three separate passes and can cover 15-20ha in a 15-hour day.

"We aim to plough 25% of the farm on a rotational basis. It gets rid of wheat volunteers going into barley and also keeps a check on the blackgrass which is a significant weed on the farm," says Mr Shipley.

Turning troubles

Small fields are also ploughed. "The Mono and press is a long machine, which makes headlands and corners a real headache in small fields, comments Mr Redfearn.

The system is finding such favour on heavy land farms that Velcourt has already introduced it on three estates. Indeed, its feasible the same approach could be adopted on a smaller scale, adds Mr Redfearn. Smaller machines could be used, although the economies of scale and output would diminish.

He has no doubt that the system works for him on the heavy land at Haverholme. Crops adjacent to next years Cereals event will show whether his faith is well founded. &#42

Peter Leveridge, Chris Redfearn and Ken Shipley – gunning for great results on the Cereals 98 event site.

HAVERHOLME ESTATE

&#8226 Heavy land, Sleaford, Lincs.

&#8226 Managed by Velcourt.

&#8226 3 full-time staff.

&#8226 935ha, 828ha arable.

&#8226 Cropping:areaave yield

hat/ha

w wheat3779.25

w barley1698.0

w rape2023.5

vining beans375.0

set-aside39-

game cover3-

&#8226 Simba Mono discs then Freeflow drill to establish.

&#8226 Costs cut by 15% and better crop establishment.

SITE REPORT

Over the coming months we will report the key management decisions being made at Haverholme Estate as well as providing updates on the progress of plots at the site of Cereals 98. The first piece, in FW Sept 19, will look at drilling rates and dates for wheat and barley.

Weatherproof crop establishment is the goal at Haverholme Estate. Minimal cultivations followed by a cultivator drill deliver the goods.

Adding 5cm (2in) to either side of the wings on the Monos five sub-soiler tines has improved soil lift to offset this autumns moist conditions.