CASE STUDY – JIMMY CLARKE
Business name: Agricultural Management (Haddington), East and Midlothian
Farm size: 460ha block direct drilled (part of 1,400ha rented, contract and share farmed by AMH
Area of each crop grown on farm: Winter wheat 260ha, oilseed rape 100ha, linseed 25ha, spring oats 30ha, winter/spring Beans 25ha, vining peas 20ha
Typical rotation: Winter wheat/oilseed rape/winter wheat/spring break
Soil type(s): Red clay loams
When did you start direct drilling?
Following experimentation with a Claydon Vee drill, which confirmed our soils were too shallow to employ it, we trialled a prototype SR and purchased one of the first production models in 2007.
It has an Accord seed hopper and metering controlled by Agtron radar/electrics and KHart covering harrow and packer. We are about to take delivery of a Pillar Lasers drill with low disturbance disc/hoe coulters.
What prompted you to start direct drilling?
Deteriorating soil structure and organic matter levels following a change from a mixed farming policy to 100% combinable cropping. A desire to implement a relatively simple, sustainable (financial, agronomic and ecologic), farming policy/strategy that was competitive, on an EU and world basis.
What have been the biggest benefits from direct drilling?
I now have a better, more valuable farm.
What have been the biggest issues you’ve faced since starting, and how have you dealt with them?
I’ve countered a lack of UK-based research and support through internet research, study trips, British Farming Forum direct drilling forum, on-farm experience and observations. Sterile brome is another issue, which rotation, spring break crops, cover crops, “out of crop” control, “imaginative” use of range of herbicide options have helped keep under control.
I’ve also been frustrated at not being able to “roll it out” over our whole business. The competitiveness of contract farming, and short term, in farming terms, requirements of landowners, agents and consumers, has forced farming contractors and tenants to adopt practices and rotations which I don’t believe are sustainable. Landowning clients can also be reluctant to “allow” their contractors to change to a direct drilling system simply because they perceive it as higher risk.
Where the contractor is fully responsible for the supply of machinery and labour, all the financial savings from a change to direct drilling accrue to them. I am actively trying to conceive a simple JV farming contract in which both landowners and contractors equitably share the risks and rewards of direct drilling. Contractors have to be rewarded for the levels of management put in, but punished for shortcomings, while landowners should share in the fixed cost and fuel savings direct drilling brings.
Have you experienced any yield drop while direct drilling?
When we were “mixed farming”, our cereal yields were above average for the area.
However, we were intensively managing a small area of cereals with the associated high fixed costs. Our yields are now on a par with conventionally grown combinable crops in the area. Within our own business in 2010, our direct drilled farms slightly outperformed our farms in classic tillage.
What are the keys to making direct drilling work?
* Attention to detail and patience, neither of which I have naturally!
* A full understanding of what you are trying to achieve
* Sustainable rotation