Maize set for permanent cropping place

CROPPING ON the home farm, with its wide range of soils in relatively small fields, is feed winter wheat with breaks of oilseed rape, oats, occasionally beans and more recently grain maize on 26ha (65 acres).


“Some of our fields are quite steep and the average size is only 12 acres. We are certainly not prairie farming.


“This year is probably make or break for the maize. The key is whether we can get wheat sown okay after it in November.”


So far this year”s establishment, after drilling straight into the stubble, appears slug-free and promising. Some of the output will be used to fatten the Stuarts” 650 store cattle.


“We are not in a particularly wet area – we get about 35in a year. But the disease risk, especially from septoria and take-all, is very high. We can get up to 4t/acre from first wheats, but we just can”t grow second wheats.”


Haulage to the nearest bread-making mill, in Wales, soon erodes any potential premiums so feed varieties are the norm.


Barley, unless for undersowing with grass, is also uneconomic, and most potatoes have disappeared from the area.


“There is quite a bit of swede growing west of Exeter. But having oilseed rape in the rotation rules it out.”


Miscanthus rhizome production has been considered but so far has only one outlet, he notes.


With nine full-time staff the main challenge is using his management time to best effect, he says. “There are only so many things you can run properly, and I tend to be on the phone all day.”


That is why he leans heavily on UAP”s Howard Moore for agronomy advice.


“Surface cultivation” is the preferred route to crop establishment, something Mr Stuart believes will help keep the land in Good Agricultural and Environmental Condition under cross-compliance.


“I don”t like ploughing and inverting the soil. It”s expensive and not good for the structure. Besides we simply don”t have the time to plough everything even if we wanted.


“That said we haven”t got on very well with direct drilling on our land.”


So, because there is little blackgrass, ploughing is confined to burying oats stubbles. Sowing is via two Kuhn power harrow combination units and a newer Vaderstad Rapid – all 6m models.


GPS guidance has been fitted to the latest tractors, all John Deeres, not for finer fertiliser adjustments or patch spraying, but simply to avoid costly overlaps with wide cultivating and mowing tackle, explains Mr Stuart.

See more