John Best farms 320ha
(791 acres) from Acton House
Farm, Pointspass, Co Down.
oats and potatoes are main
crops on his 220ha (544 acres)
of clay loam arable land
WE are still waiting for summer to start. The wettest May and June since 1960 has taken a severe toll on all sectors of agriculture in the province.
I am glad I kept earwash fungicide rates reasonably robust. Our wheat had 0.5 litres/ha of Folicur (tebuconazole), 0.25 litres/ha of Amistar (azoxystrobin) and 0.5 litres/ha of Hallmark (lambda-cyholthrin). Spray timings did not err too far off schedule so most is relatively septoria-free.
Oats are, to date, exceptionally clean. There is undoubtedly plenty of yield potential but unless there is a big improvement in the weather, with plenty of sunshine, much of that will not be fulfilled.
Having taken part in an RSPB survey of birds on the farm in spring and early summer, which I feel was a very valuable initiative, I was rather unhappy when a letter thanking me for my interest in the project invited me to participate in a postcard campaign to lobby DARD to switch more funds from food production to environmental stewardship and rural business support.
Personal experience to date would suggest that both environmental stewardship and rural development funds are difficult to access and are not the solution to a sustainable agriculture in Northern Ireland. Profitable food production will always be the mainstay of environmentally friendly farming.
On a trip to the U21 Rugby World Cup in South Africa recently, I visited a 10,000ha (25,000 acre) beef and cereal farm in the country. Management is exceptional with environmental consideration well up to UK standards. While labour is relatively cheap, working conditions are good. Every opportunity is taken to use local labour and alleviate a very serious unemployment problem.
Wheat drilled in 35cm (14 in) rows, at 10.5kg/ha, typically yields 3.5t/ha which, at the equivalent of £60/t, is profitable. However, their beef enterprise is struggling at present despite use of growth promoters and feed additives that drive average DLWG to 1.5kg.
I came away optimistic that there is still a place for specialist beef production in the UK. *
Back from a rugby and farming visit to South Africa and summer still hasnt started, says John Best in Co Down.