Farmer Focus: With grain at £200/t, regen ag is not an option

What we call the “Berlin wall” has been erected to keep cattle in and wildlife and undesirables out. Concreting is complete with the aid of a brilliant tool – a Magi-screed.

I recently sat in on a NFU Zoom conference with the Environment Agency as guests.

About the author

Doug Dear
Livestock Farmer Focus writer
Doug Dear farms 404ha (1000ac) of arable land growing wheat, spring and winter barley, maize and oilseed rape and runs a custom feedyard, contract-finishing 1,500-1,700 bulls and store-cattle a year near Selby, North Yorkshire. Cattle are bought as weaned (350kg+) stores to a variety of deadweight specifications as well as Selby Auction Mart.
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There is a lot of discussion about stopping manure spreading before winter cereal cropping, which would be a disaster for me – it’s vital for crop nutrition.

Manure is a valuable organic source of NPK and, using RB209, we can justify the amount of nitrogen we put on, bearing in mind only 10% is available nitrogen, which is then deducted from the total requirement for that year’s crop.

See also: How new carbon offset scheme for regenerative ag works

I totally understand that we are all short of storage space for muck and slurry and that we are governed by calendar dates.

It’s frustrating to deal with more extreme weather when it’s drier in closed periods than the open periods, but as an industry we must pull our socks up, take advantage of storage and concrete grants, and inter-row crop maize, as maize seems to be a major culprit for run-off.

There is a minority of idiots that will ruin it for most conscientious farmers.

If farms in the West are short of land, muck is a valuable resource and surely could be traded with farms in the East.

Can we afford to buy triple super phosphate at more than £400/t, when we could use a natural resource with so many more environmental advantages?

As an experiment, we have had a go at “regen” farming by direct-drilling half the spring barley into a cover crop. The other half was done conventionally – we went over it with a Great Plains SLD cultivator, tickled it with a power harrow and gave it plenty of horsepower on the Vaderstad.

I can safely say the “regen” area is a disaster. After 125mm of rain in May, the conventional crop is looking like giving 2t more, completely offsetting the extra diesel and time.

If grain was £60/t like in the 1990s, there would be an argument for it, but at £200/t, yield is king. “No tine, no crop” – it’s that simple here.

On a side note, I totally agree with Jeremy Clarkson that you can never have a big enough tractor – power!