Running a large arable operation that’s at opposite ends of a major city and plagued with resistant blackgrass presents more than its fair share of challenges. But our new eastern barometer farmer is taking it in his stride.
Edd Banks farms 1200ha in a family partnership from Manor Farm, south west of Cambridge. Half the farmed area surrounds the village, but the rest sits north west of the city at Swaffham Bulbeck. “We have to drive all the tractors and the combine through the middle of town.”
Both areas are run as one operation and although there is a satellite farm yard at Swaffham, there is no grain storage, he says. “All grain is tipped in the field and Camgrain take it away – we’ve got 1250t of storage with them.”
To save time and improve logistics the whole farm is block cropped, he explains. “It’s all about streamlining.” For example, all Alchemy first wheats are planted in neighbouring fields so the block can be cut in one go without having to reset the combine. “I know it’s not as good for wildlife, but it massively improves efficiency.”
However, the farm is in both ELS and HLS schemes and is doing its bit for the environment, he says. “We put in 10,000 hedge plants a year ago, established 30 acres of woodland and have more than 400 Skylark plots.” He also over-winters 80ha of stubbles and has 4m and 6m buffer strips on field boundaries.
Soil types differ significantly between sites, ranging from heavy boulder clays in the south west to light fenland in the north east. Rotations are designed to maximise first and second wheat area, with spring beans and oilseed rape as the main break crops. Spring beans are planted on heavier ground, which is worst affected by resistant blackgrass, he says.
Cordiale is the second wheat variety of choice as it can be planted later than most, he says. “I try to drill bad blackgrass fields as late as possible to avoid the autumn flush.” He reckons Atlantis (mesosulfuron and idosulfuron) efficacy is less than 50% in some places and he has to rely on cultural control methods. “We have to use every tool in our arsenal.”
Sugar beet has been planted on fenland since he purchased 3200t of quota three years ago. “It has been a really useful crop for us and helps split the workload between autumn and spring.” Yields last year averaged 69t/ha with the highest performing field topping 71t/ha.
This is followed by spring barley, wheat, then second wheat and spring barley before returning to sugar beet, he says. “The spring barley crop helps fulfil ELS over-wintered stubble requirements.”
Maplus high erucic acid oilseed rape is grown under contract for Frontier, but he is switching to a hybrid variety in a bid to push yields above 3t/ha. “When you could grow it on set-aside the figures stacked up, but now it needs to achieve higher yields.” Agrochemicals are sourced through the AtlasFram buying group and all agronomy is carried out by independent adviser David Boothroyd.
Mr Banks does all combining and drilling himself, employs one full-time member of staff and a placement student from Harper Adams University College. He brings in a further two casual workers in the summer and his father does all straw baling and stacking.
His Case 8010 Axial Flow combine, which has just been superseded by a 35ft cut 9126, had been set up to minimise straw damage, he says “When we first got it we found it reduced the straw to dust, but once it was set up correctly straw was damaged less than it would be with a Claas Lexion 600.“
He reckons the upgrade will increase his output to 55-65t/hour and will allow him to cut his first 80ha day. “The capacity is also useful as I aim to cut everything below 17% moisture.”
He bales all his own straw which is sold to merchants in Shropshire and to the power station at Ely. “I’m also going to sell to the new Eco 2 station at Mendlesham once it is up and running.”
He’s a big believer in selling straw and uses a New Holland 980 big baler and a Heath Super Chaser 10 bale stacker to clear the crop. “It makes it easier to cultivate, takes weed seeds off the farm, returns £60/acre and switching off the chopper on the combine cuts fuel costs considerably.”
Heavy ground is ploughed once every six years when beans are established, he says. “We’ve got an eight furrow Dowdeswell plough which is followed by a 6m Vaderstad Top Down, and an 8m Rapid drill.”
But the main establishment technique starts with shallow cultivation using the Top Down to create a stale seed-bed. This is sprayed off with glyphosate then the Top Down goes through at depth before drilling with the Rapid, he says. “The Top Down is so versatile – it can shallow cultivate, deep cultivate and go behind the plough.”
Oilseed rape is established via a Stocks seeder mounted on a 5m Cousins V-form cultivator. A slug pellet applicator is also attached to the machine and he’s hoping to add fertiliser banding this season.
All tractors are fitted with autosteer GPS and operate on the Omnistar system. But Mr Banks is setting up an RTK network with local farmers to improve accuracy and cut subscription costs.
The network, which will use four RTK base stations, will give comprehensive coverage in the area and will significantly reduce the cost, he says. “Once it’s set up, running costs will be minimal and it should pay for itself in two to three years.”
Manor Farm, Harlton, Cambridge
• Edd Banks farms 1200ha in a family partnership from his base at Manor Farm, Harlton Cambridgeshire. Half is owned, 40% is rented and 20% is contracted farmed. Roughly half the farm is south west of Cambridge and is mainly heavy boulder clay over chalk. The rest is north east of the city and is mostly light fenland. The heavy ground is plagued with resistant blackgrass.
Varieties and yields
• First wheat: Alchemy (9-9.5t/ha)
• Second wheat: Cordiale (8-8.5t/ha)
• Spring beans: Fuego (4t/ha)
• Oilseed rape: Castille (4t/ha)
• High erucic OSR: Maplus (3t/ha)
• Sugar beet: Opta and Pernilla (69t/ha)
• Spring barley: Tipple (5.5-6t/ha)
Manor Farm kit list
• Case AFX 9120 with 10.5m (35ft) cut and autosteer. Replaces Case AFX 8010 with (30ft) header
• Main cultivation and drilling tractor – Case STX 380 Quadtrac
• Second cultivation and drilling tractor – Case Magnum 310
• Ploughing and general tasks – Case Puma 195
• Sugar beet drilling and general tasks – Case MXU 135
• Hedge cutting and general tasks – John Deere 6900
• SAMS M-class 4000l self propelled sprayer with 32m boom
CULTIVATION AND DRILLING
• Cousins V-form cultivator with stocks oilseed rape seeder
• 6m Vaderstad Top Down cultivator
• 8m Vaderstad Rapid drill
• 8 Furrow Dowdeswell plough
• 2 x Merlo P6010 with 6t lift capacity and 10m extension
• Heath Super Chaser – 10 bid bale capacity
• Hew Holland 980 big baler
• Floor drying in grain stores and 10t/hr continuous flow dryer
• To see our other barometer farmers click here.