12 March 1999


Justin Blackwood

Justin Blackwood farms

770ha (1900 acres) from

Grange Farm, Great

Brington, Northants, on a

range of farming

agreements. Cropping

hinges around winter wheat,

plus winter barley, rape,

peas, oats and occasionally


WITH low returns from most sectors of farming, and little likelihood of a major change in the near future, we have to make yet more savings. The only opportunity left to do that significantly is to reduce establishment costs; ie men, machinery and repairs.

Hence it is time to make changes. Changes which we possibly should have made long ago. A new system can either evolve over time or, if you think you know which way to go and are sure it is right, do it all in one move. I like a calculated risk and have decided changes must be made and made fast.

The plan is to farm our area with only two tractors and two men. Fortunately for us that does not mean any labour lay-offs. Contractors will be brought in for harvest operations, rather than owning the machinery and employing seasonal staff, and crops will be established with a Simba disc and press combination followed by a cultivator drill.

The make of that has yet to be decided. We will keep our JCB 150hp tractor, the 24m Airtec Sprayer and our Chafer T3000 trailed liquid fertiliser sprayer, and I have to buy a second-hand 360hp tractor.

Our fleet of three John Deere tractors, Case combine and extensive list of cultivation equipment will all go. Using contractors for harvest usually brings fears of delays, but I have farmed like this before and we have several skilled contractors available. We can then concentrate on cultivations right up behind the combine and drill earlier at lower seed rates with pre-drilling glyphosate where necessary.

Interest rates are low so it seems a good time to purchase new machinery over an extended term. The proceeds of our machinery sales will be banked to reduce or cancel borrowing.

So Mar 25 is D-Day, or rather A for auction day. We will have a farm sale at Great Brington, and everything must go. I hope its a good day for a sale!

Everything must go! Northants farmer Justin Blackwood has decided it is time to tackle fixed costs head on, and is selling three tractors, the combine, and an extensive range of cultivation equipment.

Lloyd Jones

Lloyd Jones farms 175ha

(430 acres) at Hall Farm,

Westbury, Shropshire.

Cereals and potatoes are

rotated with grass and he is

an NFU council member.

Buildings house potato and

cereal seed dressing lines

I MUST be getting old, as I seem to be repeating myself. Yet again it has been too wet for any fieldwork. In fact the barometer which my wife Jill watches as a guide to our weather is currently performing feats of acrobatics of which we never thought it capable.

However, I must be positive. Looking around the arable fields it is pleasing to see the late drilled and slug damaged areas of oats are coming through better than expected. Autumn herbicides have cleared pansies, speedwells and mayweed very well, and cleavers have been suppressed.But annual meadowgrass control has been rather mediocre.

Unsprayed fields will get an ipu/diflufenican mix plus amidosulfuron (Ally) when ground conditions permit. All things considered the crops look amazingly well following this abysmally wet winter and fertiliser is better left in the bag than spread on to waterlogged ground.

Feed wheat has been moving steadily to the local Wynnstay Farmers mill. But last weekend, due to a dramatic rise in demand for compound feed, they collected several extra loads. Yet still the price languishes and one wonders whether we should carry over stocks to next year when it is possible a lot less wheat may be harvested.

Pentland Squire potatoes have all gone, except for 35-50mm tubers which we have kept in case we need them for seed. Over 50mm yield was 43t/ha (17.4t/acre) sold for pre-packing.

Fianna and Piper are keeping remarkably well considering the late, cold and wet harvest. Our storage system, installed by Thermal Engineering, keeps humidity at between 97-98% and has proved just as successful with late lifted potatoes as those that came in dry.

However, following recent press articles, we are concerned about high levels of carbon dioxide in storage buildings and will shortly be discussing this with the company.

Men and machinery, seed and fertiliser, are all at the ready for some dry weather. Hopefully that will arrive soon and make the last few months of frustration a distant memory.

Fianna and Piper have kept remarkably well in store considering the cold, wet conditions at lifting, says Shropshire grower Lloyd Jones.

Andrew Hebditch

Andrew Hebditch farms

285ha (700 acres) of

owned, tenanted and

share-farmed land at Coat,

Martock, Somerset. Silt

and clay soils support

winter wheat, barley and

oilseed rape, plus spring

peas, linseed and beans

GROUND conditions improved during February, with the help of a good drying wind and only 28mm (1.1in) of rain.

The first job once we could travel was to apply the first of two ammonium nitrate dressings to oilseed rape. After 83kg/ha (66 units/acre) the crops appear to be growing well, with the most forward at early stem extension. A previously planned fungicide and growth regulator now looks unlikely as the price of rapeseed has gone through the floor as have area aid payments in recent years.

Cereals were next, with second wheats first, then barleys, finishing with the first wheats. At 59kg/ha (47 units/acre) the nitrogen rate was slightly higher than our normal first dose, but it will save valuable time later in the season with less to haul and apply next time round to fields up to seven miles away.

Victor beans were planted at the end of February, following one pass with the Top Tilth cultivator. Sown at 210kg/ha (1.7cwt/acre), 60mm (2.4 in) deep, giving 40 seeds a sq/m, the Vaderstad drill did a good job, planting to an even depth with very few seeds left on the surface to encourage the rooks.

The first of this years lambs arrived early last week, but with none for the rest of the week I wonder what the rams were doing for the first few days.

Two fields covering 10ha (25 acres) need some serious herbicide attention. Onion couch is in the first, and will be hit with 2 litres/ha of Dagger (imazethabenz-methyl). In the second wild oats and tillering blackgrass will get 0.125 litres/ha of Topik (clodinafop-propargyl) plus wetter priced at a staggering £44/ha (£17.80/acre). However, with a high population of blackgrass it is a must.

The debate about genetic modification continues. Until it can be shown and proved to be 110% safe to the end consumer in this country I feel use in food should be stopped. Have no lessons been learned from previous scares?

The drill has been out planting spring beans, and the first nitrogen is on at Andrew Hebditchs Somerset Farm. Tackling weeds where cereals missed autumn herbicides looks like being costly.

Ian Brown

Ian Brown is a third

generation tenant on the

156ha (385-acre) Lee Moor

Farm, Rennington, Alnwick,

Northumberland where he

grows winter wheat, barley

and oilseed rape as well as

spring peas

WEATHER has again had a major impact on our plans. But this time for the good, as a drying wind and low rainfall in February allowed us to sow 21ha (53 acres) of winter wheat into some remarkable seed-beds. A further 8ha (20 acres) of Decanter spring barley for seed was also sown. Winter barley has been rolled too, so I feel a little more ready for the real spring when it arrives. Then we will plant Espace peas and Chablis spring wheat.

I have been receiving excellent intelligence on the oilseed markets through the internet, but reading PDF files was causing problems. I eventually pulled down the appropriate software just in time to see the price crash to all time lows.

Cash-flow time again and a chance to predict prices, yields and the winner of the 2.30 at Doncaster; unfortunately I dont have any inside information and so I will keep predictions in line with last year and hope to be proved a pessimist.

Rent day approaches and last week my 169 fellow tenants and I were invited to lunch for an address by our landlord, the Duke of Northumberland. In an air of tense anticipation it was reported that a survey of the tenants showed things are extremely difficult and a rent decrease of 15% for the following year would be appropriate. That can be taken in cash or improvements to the holdings. As I am a born diplomat I wont make a statement on the level, other than to support the direction.

More important to me is what the duke said about partnership, the environment, marketing and diversification. Personally, I have long believed in these areas, but for some tenants they will offer new ways to pull back some of the profits that have been missing in the past year or so.

The future is nearly always different from the past, so adapt and prosper is what we must endeavour to do.

A rent reduction is welcome at Lee Moor Farm, near Alnwick Northumberland. Dry weather in Feb saw tenant Ian Brown finish off winter wheat drilling into some remarkably good seed-beds.

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