11 August 1995

Top crop challenge seen as very good motivator

Six finalists in the RASE/farmers weekly/ Cargill/Rank Hovis Quality Wheat Grower of the Year award are trying to harvest a top milling wheat sample. Judges inspected farms earlier. Robert Harris profiles the 3rd and 4th participants

QUALITY is the key at Garstone Estates, Ledgemore, near Weob-ley, Herefords. Stephen Klenk manages 577ha (1426 acres) for the Verdin family and produces milling wheats, and wheat, beans and grass for seed. Potatoes are grown mainly for pre-pack trade.

"I like the challenge. It gives the staff an aim and they take pride in their work. And pride is a very good motivator," says Mr Klenk.

Soissons for seed takes 53ha (130 acres) this year. A further 85ha (205 acres) of wheat is grown for milling. Just over half is Hereward, the rest is Genesis being grown on a £15/t over feed contract. "Genesis is nearly as early as Soissons here, which spreads the harvest. Although the premium is less than Hereward, it makes up for that with better yield," says Mr Klenk.

Fields average just 5.26ha (13 acres), typical of the area. Varieties are blocked together where possible to avoid lengthy journey times – the two main arable blocks are 3.5 miles apart, and single track roads make moving tackle awkward.

Mr Klenk walks his crops with an agronomist. Joint decisions are made on chemical choice, rate and timing. The agronomist also applies all the chemicals. The arrangement works well, Mr Klenk maintains.

"I dont have to store chemicals or dispose of empties. Crop walking is free, so I expect to pay a bit more for products. But I keep a checklist and we discuss prices. I do not have to buy kit and he is pretty good at updating the equipment."

Septoria tritici and mildew are the main diseases. Chemical rates are tuned to disease pressure. A typical programme costs £45-£50/ha (£18-£20/acre).

Mr Klenk safeguards protein content by applying 25kg/ha (20 units/acre) of solid N at flag leaf and another 37.5kg (30 units) of foliar N when grain is milky ripe. Sulphur, "crucial for protein quality", is applied early.

Italian ryegrass and winter and spring wild oats are Stephen Klenks main grass weed problems. Tailored doses of autumn and spring sprays keep crops clean.