FW Awards 2011: Arable Farmer of the Year finalist – Andrew and Richard Ramply

Andrew and Richard Ramply
St Neots, Cambridgeshire

Machinery is at the heart of any profitable arable farm and for one farming family, investing in new kit has reduced costs and improved crop yields.

Back in 2007, Andrew and Richard Ramply took on 243ha of a neighbouring estate under a contract farming agreement. “We had two sets of equipment and they were not the best,” explains Andrew.

They formed a machinery syndicate with the estate, allowing them to rationalise and improve the equipment. “We set about re-equipping with more efficient min-till equipment system.”

The higher-capacity machines allowed the brothers to provide contracting services, which has further reduced their own costs. Costs are some of the lowest achieved in Grant Thornton’s farm business survey and lower than the average of the top 25% of arable farms.

They have a rigorous maintenance policy with as much carried out in-house as possible. “We also take advantage of dealer warranties so costs can be budgeted for,” explains Richard.

The new kit has allowed adoption of variable P and K applications and used satellite imagery to vary nitrogen rates. This is valuable as their land ranges from gravel to heavy clay.

Another component of their soil strategy is the application of 3,000t a year of green compost from a neighbour after oilseed rape. Not only has it helped water holding capacity and organic matter content, but Richard says it has also improved the workability of the land which itself is helping blackgrass control through better seed-beds.

“We are seeing fields that have been receiving compost for the last seven to eight years change completely.”

The brothers are continually looking to improve their farming system and are starting to see the benefits of hosting field trials by Hutchinsons on a 100ha area, including work on blackgrass control.

“Trials are showing that you can get 5% better blackgrass control with shallower tillage. So we are looking to cultivate to 4-5in rather than the 8-9in we have been cultivating to,” says Andrew.

Also, tests have shown that Aramo (tepraloxydim) is highly effective on the blackgrass on their farm, so will be included in next season’s weed control.

Some of the contract farmed land has no suitable grain storage facilities, so they used an innovative way of funding a new £250,000 1,500t grain store with drying floor on a Greenfield site near the A1.

It was done via a family pension scheme (SSAS) resulting in favourable tax savings. The store is rented by the farming partnership from the pension scheme.

They have a great interest in the environment and have 25ha of ridge and furrow land managed under Countryside Stewardship and Richard is working with the English Partridge Scheme, seeing the population successfully grow to 11-12 pairs.

“We have also devised our own bird feed crop mix to ensure seed lasts longer through the winter,” says Richard.

Part of the land rented from Anglian Water is planted with miscanthus to supply biofuel to Drax. “Last year was its first harvest which yielded 7.5t/ha. We are also looking at installing a biomass boiler to make use of the large amount of woodland on the farm,” says Andrew.

Giving people access is also key with over 100,000 visitors to Little Paxton Nature Reserve. And the National Cycle Route runs through the farm.

Andrew and Richard believe strongly that growers need to give opportunities and experience to the farmers of the future. That is why they have taken on a gap year student from Harper Adams and having worked so well, plan to repeat it next year.

“Tristan is a really valued member of the team and he had an input when we were choosing a new cultivator,” says Andrew.

Farm facts

• Cropping 1,295ha

• Model family partnership with distinct roles

• Crop family farm plus three farms on mix of contract/stubble to stubble agreements and a 40ha tenancy from Anglian Water

• Growing wheat, oilseed rape, spring beans, potatoes

• Andrew and Richard, one full-time employee, and one sandwich student

The judges liked

• Innovative way to fund grain store

• Willing to take on advice/trial results to improve system

• Excellent grasp of the costs

• Well-managed family business

• Involve staff well

2011 Farmers Weekly Awards

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