Farmer Focus: Will a hand-held N-tester prove useful?

My annual long weekend cycling with old Writtle College friends took place in beautiful Suffolk this year.

We saw cracking crops and fine-looking cattle and enjoyed great food and drink, but we didn’t bargain on the rain, which tested our wet weather gear to breaking point.

At least the welcome rain was falling on our crops at home.

Probably a little late for the millet, which is looking distinctly patchy, but good for boosting the growth of our borage.

See also: Why organic oilseed is the most profitable crop on Danish farm

We were promised that once the borage is past the cotyledon stage, the hairy true leaves will deter all pests, and it is true.

It really is refreshing to have a crop that doesn’t need constant monitoring for pests – unlike oilseed rape, which is under threat every day of the crop’s life.

If you’re not spraying it, you’re disturbing the peace with guns and bangers.

Bee problems

Insects for pollination of the borage are essential, and to this end we have engaged our local beekeeper to get at least one hive a hectare, if possible.

Unfortunately, a local resident objected to having some of them near his home.

The bees would have been at least 100m from him and would only be interested in our borage flowers. He did not agree.

We moved the pallets the hives will be placed on. Sometimes it is best not to argue.

We have been having a go with a hand-held N-tester on our wheats to get some idea about how accurate we may have been with fertiliser applications this spring.

We have reduced applications when it has been very dry and are keen to know if that has been a sensible strategy.

It works by measuring the chlorophyll content of the leaf and then gives a figure for the nitrogen application required for optimum yield.

According to it we are not far out, but it is early days, and much more work needs to be done.

It could prove to be a useful tool used through the season and give good guidance for timings and applications.

Frankly, there is much guesswork now and efficiency of fertiliser is dire.


Christy Willett farms with her son Hew on 475ha at Parklands Farm, Galleywood in Essex, growing combinable crops alongside diversifications into horse stables on DIY livery, industrial and office lets. Christy and Hew are also AHDB Chelmsford Monitor Farmers.