29 January 1999

University demands top marks in the profit test

For the fourth of our articles

profiling farmers weeklys

1999 barometer growers

Andrew Blake visits Lincs

SOIL type is a common enough influence on farm enterprises, but for Tony Wright, farms manager at LCAH Farms, education demands cannot be ignored.

The mainly arable 246ha (608 acre) Elms Farm at Caythorpe is one of two he runs for De Montfort University. The other, a 166ha (410 acre) unit at Riseholme, concentrates on dairying.

His brief is clear. Above all the farms have to be run commercially to make profits to plough back into the business. But they also have to provide accurate information on all enterprises for 116 agricultural students and lecturers of the Lincs School of Agriculture and Horticulture which became part of the university in 1994.

"We are open to scrutiny at any time and are also used for research purposes. As a result we have a spread of enterprises that we probably wouldnt have otherwise. Compared with where I was before on 810ha (2000 acres) I have half the area but twice the hassle."

Two-thirds of Elms Farm lies on light, drought-prone Lincs heathland, the rest on lower-lying drained clay. "We do not have irrigation at present, and rainfall is very variable which can have a big effect. Normally it is 500-600mm a year." Last year we had 659mm (26in), in 1993 702mm (27.5in), but in 1996 we had 456mm (18.5in)."

Soil type means two separate rotations are required. "On the heavy land we tend to go two winter wheats, winter barley and winter rape." Potatoes and sugar beet dominate on the sandy clay loam over limestone where second wheats are shunned and spring malting barley is the main cereal. Riband, Consort and Malacca are this seasons wheat choices.

"We grow second earlies – Marfona – aimed largely at the baker market, but we will also lift green top for the wholesale bag market if the price is good. The droughty nature of the soil means we would struggle to grow maincrops." Last years dry May knocked output to only 31t/ha (12.5t/acre). "The previous year we got 68t/ha, but the price was only £60/t so the gross margins were very similar."

Sugar beet varieties with large prostrate leaves to get speedy ground cover and retain soil moisture are preferred to help fulfil the 1425t contract with Newark factory. All the crop, part of which this year will be on non-IACS land at Riseholme through contraction of the grassland area, is contract sown and harvested. Tramlining has been used for the past two seasons.

Muck from 230 sows, about half outdoors, helps boost fertility of the lighter land.

"Sowing wheat on the heath after October is never very successful unless we get a wet summer. But we can normally get a malting sample of spring barley without too much trouble, using only 60-70kg/ha of nitrogen and getting 6-6.5t/ha." This years varieties are Alexis and Optic. 1997 Barley-to-Beer winner Mark Ireland is a neighbour, he notes. Winter wheat averages 8.3t/ha (3.3t/acre).

Winter barley, Regina, is now confined to the heavier land. "We will grow it as a feed. If it gets a malting premium I will know I have not done the job properly." All set-aside resides at Riseholme.

ELMSFARM

&#8226 245ha arable

&#8226 Cropping ha

Wheat 81

Spring barley 46

Sugar beet 23

Winter barley 22

Potatoes 16

Linseed 12

WOSR 9

Grass & pigs 28

Trials 8

&#8226 Heathland & clay.

&#8226 No irrigation.