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Teddy Maufe

29 May 1998

Teddy Maufe

Teddy Maufe farms 407ha

(1000 acres) as the tenant of Branthill Farm, part of

the Holkham Estate, Wells-next-the-Sea, Norfolk. Sugar

beet lies at the heart of the

rotation, with other crops

including winter barley,

wheat and oats, spring

barley and triticale

THE weather pendulum has swung right the other way here and after a soaking April we have not had any measurable rain since May 1.

However, at last it has warmed up and the sugar beet are starting to grow and in most areas outstrip the constant attention from birds. You can now see the rows clearly but they are way behind their usual stage, especially considering they were drilled over two months ago.

They have just had their second post-em spray, mainly consisting of either Forte plus Venzar Flo (phenmedipham + lenacil) or Goltix plus Herbasan (metamitron + phenmedipham) depending on weeds present. Mantec was also included to help the transient manganese deficiency. We are just starting to tractor hoe the whole acreage to kill any surviving weeds, remove the weed beet between the rows and to let some air into the soil.

The spring barley has had Coptrel to counter copper deficiency and we are giving our winter barley a late fungicide of Amistar (azoxystrobin) mainly for brown rust.

We are always a growth stage behind up here on the coast with cooler temperatures and frequent sea frets. This often gave us the edge in ultimate malting barley quality but, as I have said before, only nitrogen content, germination and screenings seem to be taken into account now for malting premiums, sadly for us.

In our now constant battle to produce that increasingly elusive factor – a profit – we are chasing down every expense. Two recent successes are fire extinguisher maintenance and cover, where changing to another company has halved our annual expense, and rodent control, where a change to a local company has also halved our contract cost.

The hunt goes on for more savings in other areas.

The weather pendulum is swinging at Branthill Farm. Only 2mm of rain in May after the April deluge has left Optic spring barley desperate for a drink, says north Norfolk farmer Teddy Maufe.

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Teddy Maufe

1 May 1998

Teddy Maufe

Teddy Maufe farms 407ha

(1000 acres) at Branthill

Farm, Wells-next-the-Sea,

Norfolk. Sugar beet lies at

the heart of the rotation,

with other crops including

winter barley, wheat and

oats, spring barley and

triticale

OVER 90mm (3.5in) of rain in the first three weeks of April has severely disrupted field work. We are trying to get the final top dressing on wheat, oats, and triticale, as well as sugar beet when ground conditions allow. In the few dry interludes we are applying the main fungicide of Lyric (flusilazole) and Opus Plus (epoxiconazole + tridemorph), with some copper to barley. On Riband wheat we will be using a mix of Alto and Bravo (cyproconazole and chlorothalonil).

Thank goodness we applied a Takron (chloridazon) pre-emergence band spray on drilling the sugar beet. Now we need to get back with a first post-emergence spray. The beet seedlings look very sorry for themselves having had to endure three weeks of cool temperatures, hail and rain since emergence. They desperately need a more settled warm period.

Triticale, having been sold to us on a cheap-to-grow, very resistant to all diseases ticket, has totally broken down to yellow rust. Typical!

We have been busy in this extended wet period trying to get the grain barn up to ACCS standard. This has involved putting shatterproof plastic coverings on the inside of glass windows in the grain store, but the light protectors we ordered some time ago have still to arrive. Blocking up any potential vermin entries, with such a large set of old buildings, is a never-ending challenge. As the farm is on a full repair lease, we are responsible for all the barn modifications and maintenance.

I have just done my cash flow for the year ahead and the only way I can get the farm to show any profit is for all the crops to achieve their best ever yields – not a very likely scenario. The cost of every single input is tracked and we seek to lower them wherever we can. But basically the price of crops has just fallen too far to make up the difference.

Thank goodness for the pre-em herbicide, says sugar beet grower Teddy Maufe. Seedlings desperately need a warm settled period on his Norfolk farm.

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Teddy Maufe

3 April 1998

Teddy Maufe

Teddy Maufe farms 407ha

(1000 acres) at Branthill

Farm, Wells-next-the-Sea,

Norfolk. Sugar beet lies at

the heart of the rotation,

with other crops including

winter barley, wheat and

oats, spring barley and

triticale

WE STARTED drilling our 107ha (265 acres) of sugar beet on Mar 16 and had a clear run through to finishing late on Mar 20.

I resisted starting earlier because we usually get a wintry cold snap in late March and I much prefer not to have the vulnerable germinating and emerging stage protracted any longer than necessary.

We drill at 18cm (7in) spacing in 51cm (20in) rows, but drill the headlands at 15cm (6in) spacing to help compensate for wheelings and game damage.

To obtain a seed-bed on our late autumn ploughed land, we just do one pass with the Kongskilde Germinator. However, in the absence of frost tilth this year, I had to run a straight tined spring-tine ahead of the Germinator on the heavier land to obtain a good enough seed-bed. That accounted for about 15% of the total.

We band-spray Takron (chloridazon) on the drill to give more flexibility and save costs on our following two-spray post-em programme.

Docking Disorder has been found consistently in trials on this farm so we also apply Temik (aldicarb) at drilling. About a third of the sugar beet seed was Advantage treated to help it get away. We then apply 125kg/ha (1cwt/acre) of nitrogen onto the seedbed.

In early March, we applied 20.10.10 compound fertiliser at 375kg/ha (3cwt/acre) to our Optic spring barley – so we only apply 75kgN/ha (60 unitsN/acre), since the preceding sugar beet crop had 12t/ha (5t/acre) of turkey muck.

In mid-March we gave the winter barley its main dressing, to supply a final total of 100kgN/ha (80 unitsN/acre) on the Halcyon and 125kgN/ha (100 unitsN/acre) on the Regina.

This week following the recommendation of our CropCare adviser, we have been applying a low rate growth regulator mix of Moddus (trinexapac-ethyl) and chlormequat to the Halcyon, plus manganese and some Torch (spiroxamine) fungicide to control brown rust. &#42

With no frost tilth to aid seed-bed preparation on heavier ground 15% of the beet area needed spring tining ahead of the Germinator this year, says Norfolk grower Teddy Maufe. Drilling finished in good time on Mar 20.

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Teddy Maufe

6 March 1998

Teddy Maufe

Teddy Maufe is a tenant

farmer on 407ha (1000

acres) at Branthill Farm,

Wells-next-the-Sea, Norfolk.

Sugar beet lies at the heart

of the rotation, with other

crops including winter

barley, wheat and oats,

spring barley and triticale

FEBRUARY was exceptionally mild and dry, and during the last week of the month we applied 125kg/ha (1cwt/acre) of sulphate of ammonia on the winter cereals, which should remedy sulphur deficiency on our light soils.

All the winter cereals not rolled in the autumn have now been rolled, together with our earlier drilled spring barleys. We also finished drilling our 80ha (200 acres) of spring barley on Feb 9 and the land could now do with a decent downfall of rain – it is not often I say that in February.

Last winter (1996/97) we installed a new Kentra grain drier with a capacity of 16.6t/hour to replace our 30-year-old drier. The combine was outstripping it by a factor of three, even if we were only removing 1% moisture, resulting in a huge heap of backlog grain every night.

Nearly all the necessary ancillary equipment of higher capacity conveyors and elevators were second-hand. The total budget still exceeded £55,000, but malting barley was worth £140/t at the time. Little did I realise that within a year grain prices would have plummeted so far.

The downside of this big investment has been that our budgets supporting it were made over a year ago. They now look distinctly unrealistic.

The drier itself worked really well last harvest, fast and economically. But it now looks like it will need to keep doing that for at least the next 40 harvests to pay for itself.

The reason we chose a continuous flow drier again was that we have self-emptying silos on the farm. They were already installed in a fine old barn for which the Holkham Estate is renowned.

Our final adjusted sugar beet yield, despite being affected by the mystery low sugar disease, was 58t/ha (23.5t/acre). Even so, our net return from the crop is well down on last year, because of the large fall in quota price. &#42

Teddy Maufe: Todays grain prices mean the new grian drier will now take far longer to pay for itself than first expected. Output is 16.6t/hour.

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Teddy Maufe

9 January 1998

Teddy Maufe

Teddy Maufe farms 407ha

(1000 acres) at Branthill

Farm, Wells-next-the-Sea,

Norfolk. Sugar beet lies at

the heart of the rotation,

with other crops including

winter barley, wheat and

oats, spring barley and

triticale

WE started drilling Optic spring barley on Dec 9 with Evict (tefluthrin) in the dressing as the crop was being sown into stubble and at high risk from wheat bulb fly attack.

Remaining spring barley follows sugar beet. The risk should be much lower so we will dispense with the treatment.

The last of the Branthill sugar beet was lifted in snow flurries on Dec 17 leaving around 16ha (40 acres) of my neighbours still to lift. Our worst field affected by the new mystery disease (see last month) suffered an average sugar decline of 1% and higher amino N levels.

This autumn we had a rent review and the Tenant Farmers Association agent was very helpful in containing the increase through negotiations. However, unless there is some improvement in crop prices (even allowing for some lower variable costs) we will do brilliantly to break even this financial year.

On this light land we are never going to break any yield records. So we have always grown high quality malting barley and offset mediocre yields with healthy premiums. But the brewers have been using more high nitrogen barley for the every-increasing lager market.

This spells trouble for specialist malting barley growers like us. It opens up the market to farmers on better land who can obtain a higher yield and are content with a lower premium.

If the malting premium is too small many farmers will apply more nitrogen to the new high-yielding dual-purpose varieties which could mean low to medium nitrogen level barley supplies dry up.

I know the government believes all arable farms had it too good for several years and now is "pay-back time". But some of us have rents to pay and we have suffered severe droughts out here on the east coast in recent seasons. Sadly the picture of a certain farmer brandishing his substantial IACS cheque to the media is what the public remember.

Spring barley drilling has started at Branthill Farm. But Teddy Maufe fears the trend to higher nitrogen malting

barley may peg prospects. It will favour growers with better land where big yields offset smaller premiums.

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Teddy Maufe

12 December 1997

Teddy Maufe

Teddy Maufe farms 407ha

(1000 acres) at Branthill

Farm, Wells-next-the-Sea,

Norfolk. Sugar beet lies at

the heart of the rotation,

with other crops including

winter barley, wheat and

oats, spring barley and

triticale

WE seem to have the dubious distinction of being the first farm in England to find low sugar disease in our beet.

So far Brooms Barn plant clinic has not confirmed that we have the disease for certain. Little is known about the condition, which is dubbed Syndrome des Basses Richesses in France, but it is thought to be caused by mycoplasmas, probably transmitted by leaf hoppers.

For us the story began in October when sugar beet started dropping from our belt-lift harvester. Close inspection of the crop showed 10-25% of the sugar beet had suffered an almost total loss of tops. Just a few outer leaves were left sticking up like celery stalks.

I called in my agronomist, Dr Philip Draycott, who confirmed it was not boron deficiency and went away to do some research. While on the Continent he had been shown the symptoms of Syndrome des Basses Richesses which closely matched my affected crop.

The big indicator of this disease is its effect on sugar content and amino-N levels.

Sure enough, my affected beet mirrored the expected results – sugars down from 18.5% to 15.3% and amino-N up from 114 to 287.

The disease has now been found to be quite common across north Norfolk. Some of the fields of my neighbour, with whom I share the belt-lift harvester, suffered 70% infection. After a lot of deliberation we bought an old Oppel wheel three-row tanker to cope with the bulk of the crop.

Despite the low sugar problems my adjusted yields have risen steadily to 59t/ha (24t/acre). That suggests the disease arrived in the crop late and has not depressed yield too much.

If the disease arrived earlier in a generally poor crop year, I think it could be a much more serious problem. Next month I hope to be able to return to more everyday farm matters.

Low sugar disease has been Teddy Maufes main concern over the past four weeks. Fortunately yield does not seem to have suffered too much.

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Teddy Maufe

14 November 1997

Teddy Maufe

Teddy Maufe farms 407ha

(1000 acres) at Branthill

Farm, Wells-next-the-Sea,

Norfolk. Sugar beet lies at

the heart of the rotation,

with other crops including

winter barley, wheat and oats,

spring barley and triticale

FARMING here on the north Norfolk coast, a good proportion of the farm is light and sandy, reminiscent of our famous beaches, so the threat of drought is always on our minds.

During the whole of September we only recorded 9mm (0.4in) of rain, making sugar beet harvesting like drawing reluctant wisdom teeth and winter cereal seed-beds far from ideal.

But by mid-October we had 38mm (1.5in) of rain and, perversely, we were quite glad to see a return to a more settled spell.

The first field of sugar beet lifted in the third week of September yielded a respectable 46t/ha (18.5t/acre) adjusted. But the strength of sterling has cut the price of sugar beet by about £5/t on last years already reduced price.

This will have a big effect on the farm profit. Beet has been the cornerstone of our balance sheet in recent years. For this reason we have directed a lot of care and resources into the sugar beet, employing a specialist agronomist to help keep improving our gross margin on the crop.

Now with a falling sugar beet price we must try to achieve lower growing costs. One area where there has been no tangible decrease at all is the cost of sugar beet seed – soon to be remedied? I hope so.

We completed winter cereal drilling on Oct 24 when we put in the last field of Riband wheat after sugar beet. By far our main cereal crop is malting barley. But after last harvests fiasco, with our barleys discounted on price for a multitude of perceived sins, we have brought triticale back into the rotation on our lightest drought-prone land.

Although in the end all but two lorry loads achieved a malting standard successfully, this was only after a total stand-off with the maltsters. A marketing experience I hope will not be repeated next harvest. &#42

Beet is the cornerstone of Teddy Maufes farming enterprise on light, sandy land at Wells-next-the-sea, in north Norfolk. So falling prices are a real concern.

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