Agronomist, Masstock Dalgety
“There’s nothing more satisfying than getting to the nub of a problem and providing a solution,” Steve Portas, an agronomist from Masstock, says towards the end of our visit.
And there’s no doubt he has done just that for Chris and David Moore’s arable business, based at West Butterwick, just south-west of Scunthorpe.
Next door to the farm is the Axgro Food factory owned by David’s father-in-law, which, among other things, produces beetroot products. The Moores’ farm grows around 8000t of beetroot a year for the factory, and also provides the site for the disposal of all the washings and peelings.
And that’s where Steve has made his mark. With increasing interest from the Environment Agency, there was an urgent need to review the spreading to land process, so he met with EA officials to discuss a Para 7 exemption application. That allows the peelings and waste water to be spread onto agricultural land. A separate application has to be made for each 50ha of land to be used.
“After talking to the EA, I approached the management at Axgro Foods to put a timetable in place.” That involved looking at risks to human health, the environment, the benefit to the growing crop and the consequences for the following crop.
The result of his hard work is an efficient disposal operation. Steve has developed a user-friendly recording and monitoring system for where the washings are spread to land. The Moores simply send Steve a fax-back form with the total applied in each week. From there he inputs the data into his system to monitor field location, tonnage applied, and cumulative totals to make sure amounts are kept within legislation. He also calculates the amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and magnesium applied.
Extra traffic on the land means monitoring of soil structure is both necessary and a legal requirement. “Soils are scanned with an EMI scanner to look for compaction, and areas that may in the future be vulnerable.”
The benefit to the Moores’ business has been substantial. “They have been able to take a P&K holiday for over three years now.” Total savings have been in excess of £9000 a year. In addition there has been a positive benefit to both cereal and beet growth resulting from better soil microbial action. “They also seem to cope better in dry conditions.”
Of course, Steve’s expertise is much more than just organising applications for beetroot washings. He provides agronomy services for 18 clients covering 4800ha (12,000 acres). Some clients, like the Moores, pay on an area basis, others an all-in-one chemical plus agronomy service package. Either way visits are fortnightly.
He uses software, such as Muddy Boots for recommendations, and ProCheck – a pesticide database – to check recommendations are legal. “It audits what you’re doing.”
That helps to keep clients’ cross-compliant – a service he offers for an annual fee of £400. Legislation is increasingly taking up more of his time, he admits. “It is probably 5-10% now.”
But finding solutions for his clients’ businesses is what drives him, whether it is to do with paperwork or agronomy or anything else, he says. “The farmer always gives you another hurdle to jump through and you have to find a solution. All businesses are different, and it is getting to know what will make their system work I enjoy.”
Above: Former Arable Farmer of the Year, Mark Ireland, Independent Consultant Colin Myram, Mike Abram, Farmers Weekly’s deputy arable editor.
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