Farmer Focus: Mixed farming brings fertility benefits

I have read with interest various articles and letters recently in the farming press regarding the introduction, or should I say reintroduction, of livestock or livestock manures into arable rotations.

The primary reason being to either break the blackgrass cycle or to improve soil structure – or even both.

See also: Decisions on EFAs

Here in the far western side of the country we don’t suffer the blackgrass problem, although we have plenty of other challenges on the arable cropping front.

We do, for example, need to maintain the soil structure and its fertility. I am a big believer in mixed farming, partly because the economics balance each other out in the years of “down corn and up horn” and vice versa, but primarily for the fertility benefits.

I am sure many consultants and advisers would tell me I should concentrate on one or the other, not least because of the capital that would be released if the cattle and sheep went.

In my situation, although we have a significant arable area, there are other areas that can only be best used by grazing livestock. The two complement each other.

I have always grown some stubble turnips and forage rape during winter on arable land destined for spring cropping, particularly potatoes.

This was primarily for finishing hogs, but I have increased the area grown over the past year or two to get most of the ewes off the grassland for a proportion of the winter.

There is a compromise when it comes to where I can grow oilseed rape in the rotation, but I find the benefits of the “golden hoof” – particularly on the lighter land – outweigh this.

For the system to work, I am very grateful to Harry Ridley and his invention of the portable electric sheep fencing system, even if my current student questions the sanity of it all while moving fences daily.

On the vegetable front, I haven’t seen quite the January lull that we often experience this year. Both potato and onion movements are steady.

A number of customers are asking what the price will be from the autumn onwards. That is a difficult one when planting hasn’t even taken place and I have no idea what the weather will do.

Jeremy Oatey manages 1,100ha of arable land near Plymouth in Cornwall and is 2013 Farmers Weekly Arable Farmer of the Year. Cropping includes wheat, barley, OSR, oats, beans, potatoes, onions, swedes and daffodils.