Farmer Focus: Plans to continue with a biological approach

Wow, many scenes from my childhood have been recently re-enacted here in Kent; sheep in blindingly white fields huddled around hay feeders, snow drifting across both back lanes and main roads making them impassable at alarming rates, and hordes of children sledging on the Downs.

I must admit to having a go myself and it was great fun for a while, but the novelty soon wore off as the practical issues bit.

Last week, issues included getting about and feeding sheep and this week, after a rapid thaw, it is burst water pipes causing problems for livestock and humans.

See also: Read more from our arable Farmer Focus writers

It is just the reality of briefly challenging conditions but nowadays it seems someone must be found to blame and, if at all possible, a link to Brexit established.

Independent agronomy

Prior to the Russians kindly sending us some of their weather we were raring to go with field work, but will now have to dig out some patience.

Whatever you think of direct drilling there is no doubt our ability to travel on the land has increased remarkably on unmoved tramlines that have been in the same place for years.

Generally, this season my plans are to continue with a more biological approach with slightly lowered nitrogen rates, aided by molasses and foliar nutrition, and biological products at spring drilling and fungicide timings, particularly on crops that respond less to inputs anyway.

I am edging further down this path as the signs continue to be that our current, more chemical-based route will become less popular, less sustainable and more expensive.

Further indications of that can be seen with the recent Dow and Dupont merger, with Bayer buying Monsanto and Adama now being owned by same company as Syngenta.

All this means we farmers are becoming tinier and tinier pawns in the industry and I think we need to get together even more to try and strengthen our position.

I hear independent agronomy advice is continuing to grow its market share and believe this is a good sign as it could help increase competition between the dwindling number of manufacturers and suppliers.

Andy Barr farms 700ha in a family partnership in Kent. Combinable crops amount to about 400ha and include milling wheat and malting barley in an increasingly varied rotation. He also grazes 800 Romney ewes and 40 Sussex cattle and the farm uses conservation agriculture methods.

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