FW Awards 2017: Arable Farmer of the Year

Shaun Watson is the proud owner of two YEN gold awards on his kitchen shelf, which he earned by producing the UK’s highest-yielding wheat field at the 2016 harvest, close to the magical 13t/ha.

This is the culmination of all his efforts in raising yields on the family farm.

What makes this more remarkable is the challenge of farming a wide range of soils, from light land on the coast to yellow clay. Some fields have four or more soil types.

See also: 2017 FW Awards: Arable Farmer of the Year finalists

Shaun Watson, Westfield Farm

East Holywell, Northumberland

Shaun Watson

Shaun Watson © Jim Varney

Winning ways

  • Impressive soil health with a plough-based system
  • Objective analysis of margins of different crop options
  • Liked the way the diversification fits with the core arable farming
  • Successfully raised crop yields

He has harnessed the latest technology, using variable fertiliser and seed rates to lift poorer-performing parts of his fields.

Soil P and K indices have been transformed, even in the short time since its adoption.

The result is that his crops are much more even, pushing the farm wheat average close to 11t/ha.

Yields are also helped by a diverse rotation, which includes ryegrass leys for the haylage business supplying local horse owners.

He is passionate about soil health and feeds them with liberal amounts of sewage sludge, horse manure from the livery business and compost.

Soil organic matters are in excess of 5% on his plough-based system, which many direct drillers would be envious of.

His success and reputation has helped him to substantially grow the area, which he has more than doubled since 2013. His latest project is to build a new farm near Morpeth.

Ultimately, his philosophy of “yield is king” combined with keeping costs down means his business is much better placed to thrive after Brexit.

Arable Farmer of the Year 2017 is sponsored by Frontier

The finalists were:

  • Mark Bowsher-Gibbs, Hempstead Farm, Sittingbourne, Kent
  • John Pawsey, Shrimpling Park Farm, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
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