FW Awards 2009: Arable Farmer of the Year finalist – Andrew Gloag

When Andrew Gloag took over the family business aged 21 in 1984 after his father’s death there was just 89ha of arable. Today he crops about 1850ha under various contract-farming arrangements, more than half set up in the past five years.

The latest expansion reflects the economic difficulties faced by many farms on heavy land in the shadow of the North Yorks Moors.

“We aim to provide a profitable way forward for smaller farms which perhaps cannot do in their own right.”

Andrew was Farmers Weekly’s regional representative in 2006 and 2007.

In 2007 he joined an agronomy supply business in a 50% joint venture offering a contract spraying and spreading service administered by his right-hand man, Mark Ward.

“It demonstrates the benefits of collaboration within associated lines of an industry, to the benefit of all partners,” says Andrew.

The scale of the business has justified investment in modern machines and technology that smaller units could never afford, he adds. All equipment is bought on rolling hire purchase agreements to ease budgeting.

Two rubber-tracked Agco Challenger tractors, each with GPS autosteer, do all the cultivations and drilling, and harvesting is with two Class Lexion Terra Trac combines.

Winter wheat and oilseed rape account for about 60% of the cropped area, with winter barley and spring beans the other main crops.

“Last year we averaged 4.01t/acre for wheat and 1.8t/acre for oilseed rape.”

The key to such high output is timeliness, he stresses. Seed-bed preparation is carried out with Sumo non-inversion equipment, and sowing is via an 8m Vaderstad drill.

He particularly praises the latter for its handling of rapeseed. “When rape was only £125/t we were all looking for ways to cut establishment costs. Now seed must be placed as well as possible.”

An increasing challenge is rising annual rainfall. Last year he recorded 965mm (38in). “We’ve been getting an extra 5in a year in this decade and it’s tending to come in big events.”

Last harvest downpours led to a “panic” purchase of a £30,000 18t twin-wheeled Cestari chaser bin to keep the combines moving.

“We have a very narrow autumn working window – we aim to be all sown by the first week in October.” That often means the main cultivation tractors work 24 hours a day.

Variety choices and all inputs are determined in consultation with Nigel Foster of Phoenix Agronomy and Mark Ward, notes BASIS-qualified Andrew.

“As the operation gets bigger I simply can’t do it all.” He does, however, do most of the slug-pelleting, giving him a chance to see all the fields at least once a year.

Sterile brome is the main grassweed problem, and information from nearby TAG trials, CMI’s Chris Green and thrice-yearly visits from Masstock’s Philip Marr also help drive agronomy decisions.

Lime is seen as an essential input to counter club-root in the oilseed rape, “We use a lot of LimeX.”

Despite recent high fertiliser prices, his phosphate and potash policy is to maintain indices on all the land. “We don’t want to be accused of raping and pillaging.”

All nitrogen is applied as liquid, second wheats receiving up to 275kg/ha (220 units/acre). He remains to be convinced of the value of N-sensing.

Three main grain stores and driers are employed, drying costs (last season of £12.40/t) being averaged over all the farms to avoid potential disputes, he says. “Success lies in unity.”

Andrew markets all the grain, having developed good relationships with local feed mills and using national merchant pools for 25-30% of the farms’ output. “Last year’s wheat average after all deductions and claims was £121.59/t.”

All the farms have shoots and all have adopted ELS, 6m grass margins providing useful buffer zones beside all watercourses, he notes.

Farm facts

  • 1850ha all-arable heavy soils
  • Mixture of own land, fully managed contracts and stubble-to-stubble agreements – 12 farming “partners”
  • Six full-time employees plus secretary
  • Winter wheat, oilseed rape and barley, and winter and spring beans

What the judges liked

  • “Identification of local market for contract services.
  • “Well structured, cost-orientated business focused on delivering high-quality operation’
  • “Establishing crops within narrow autumn window.”

Three achievements

  • More than doubled size of business in five years
  • Identifying and seizing opportunities and prepared to invest
  • Providing “partners” with cost-effective solutions

 

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