Farmer Focus: The only constant in agriculture is volatility

It is something of an honour to follow in the footsteps of fellow Ryedale farmer Richard Wainwright – a gentleman who’s farming achievements I have admired for many a year.

By way of introduction, I am fortunate to farm in beautiful Ryedale, where my family have been tenants of Castle Howard Estate for 95 years.

We operate as a family partnership, and have quite a varied array of enterprises. The most significant being 240 acres of potatoes, grown for mostly local processing markets.

See also: How a Cornish arable farm aims to be net zero in five years

The farm runs heavy and light land rotations and integrates farmyard muck from the pigs alongside cover crops to help improve soil health.

As time passes, we’ve found less to be more as far as soil movement is concerned, significantly in potato crops.

That said, crop failures don’t pay the bills, so I treat the plough as much as a strategic tool as direct-drilling, with rotational position often dictating establishment method. Flexibility is key.

Our winter wheat and barley are grown to supply the many feed mills that surround us, with beet contracted to British Sugar at Newark – though for how much longer is debatable at present? (I never did follow fashion!)

Spring oats generally make milling quality, and spring beans are grown for human consumption. Spring barley usually goes to Knapton maltings.

All operations except beet harvesting are in house, and we carry out some contracting work, mostly grain drying, potato topping, baling and some long-standing stubble to stubble work.

Cover crops have been a “work in progress” for 11 years and precede all spring crops. The intention being to facilitate drainage, retain nutrients, reduce nematodes, and assist establishment of the following crop.

We always have a trial of some sort on the go, and last year we experimented with placed biostimulants and companion clover in sugar beet, and no-till potatoes – more about those in a future article.

Agriculture is facing challenging times, with the only certainty seemingly being volatility.

We try to farm under the mantle that “there is always a better way” (of doing everything).

Certainly, we need to remain adaptable, and open to opportunity to ride the turbulent times ahead – who knows what wisdom (wacky ideas) will come from our world leaders following COP26 in Glasgow!

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