Extreme climes make pasta profit possible

Climate change is just one of the factors driving the future of Charlie Watson-Smyth’s farm near Padstow, Cornwall.

“I’ve always wanted to keep one step ahead of changes that might affect the farm,” he says.

An example of this approach was the opening of a farm shop two years ago. Its location near a town that has become a Mecca for food lovers has meant it has proved very popular.

Last year Mr Watson-Smyth was looking for new local products. He hit upon pasta made from durum wheat grown on the farm.

“We are one of the driest and warmest parts of the South West and so decided that durum wheat would be viable.”

Enough seed was sourced by local merchant Mike Freke to plant 2.4ha (6 acres).

“The crop grew very fast and very well and was looking stunning right through the dry June,” says Mr Watson-Smyth. “But durum wheat ideally requires a warm and dry July and August, which, of course, we did not get.”

The result, when harvested at the end of August, was a good total yield of 17t, but quality had been affected by the rain.

“The grains were a darker colour than we would have liked, making a darker flour,” he says.

Currently the crop is being assessed for its quality. If successful the plan is to purchase a pasta making machine to produce pasta to order in the shop.

Ensuring that none of the pasta is wasted, Mr Watson-Smyth has bought some pigs that will feed on the pasta mix left at the end of the day.

About 400ha (1000 acres) of the 505ha (1250-acre) farm is in arable production, with 80ha (200 acres) contracted out for broccoli production. The remainder of the land is planted with winter wheat and winter and spring barley.

Mr Watson-Smyth works very closely with regional GrowHow adviser Mike Sheppard to ensure that his fertiliser regime is as effective as possible.

“Nitrogen levels are critical, particularly for malting barley. By using the GrowHow systems we have been able to achieve an ideal 1.5% nitrogen level.”

Mr Watson-Smyth anticipates more extreme weather events and accepts that he will have to alter production systems accordingly.

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