Opportunity and variety on north-east tenancy
farmers weekly has a new Management Matters man in the north, Alan Jackson. Tim Relf went to meet him and got an insight into his farming philosophy
HOME for Alan Jackson and his wife, Lorna, is the 279ha (690-acre) Rugley Farm near Alnwick, tenanted from the Duke of Northumberland.
It is a mixed unit, just under half of which is accounted for by combineable crops, with the rest down to grass supporting sheep and beef enterprises.
"Our heavy soils suit a dry year," says Alan, "as we aim to bale every acre of straw." But he is no stranger to wet, late seasons. "Harvesting wheat in October is not uncommon."
Winter wheat and barley typically yield about 8.6t/ha (3.5t/acre), while oilseed rape gave 4.5t/ha (1.8t/acre) last year, the highest ever yield for that crop.
"We pursue a fairly high input system, so we are looking for high outputs," explains Alan. "But in the past wheat was worth £120/t. Now, with values nearer £90/t, it is a different ball-game, so we are reconsidering this approach."
Another venture currently under review is the beef enterprise. Traditionally, about 400 Continental cross cattle a year have been sold finished, typically at between 18 and 20 months old.
But more recently numbers have been cut. And heifers have been acquired with a view to bulling them in the summer, making the unit less reliant on bought-in stock. "More self-contained", Alan describes it.
Not surprisingly, the BSE crisis has been a driving force behind this change of policy.
Farm buildings are a mixture of modern and traditional. And the housing period typically lasts from early October to May. "There is more winter than summer up here," he says. At between 107m and 152m (350ft and 500ft) above sea level, the farm is often exposed to a cold east wind.
"This is a county of great contrasts. The locality contains productive arable land, vegetable crops and pure heather moorland."
It was from one of these upland farms – another Duke of Northumberland holding – that the Jacksons came to Rugley in 1972. More recently, in 1993, the family partnership was dissolved and Alan and his wife took complete charge.
As well as arable and beef, there are also 640 commercial British Milksheep ewes, plus small pedigree British Milksheep, Suffolk and Texel flocks.
Last years lambing percentage was over 200%, with most of the lambs sold on the Direct electronic auction system at nearby Wooler.
Last season saw an average weight of 19.6kg, with a typical value of over £50 a head (261p/kg). Main buyer is Kent-based Invicta lamb, which exports them for the French trade.
In addition to the prime lambs, the farms closed flock has generated a lot of interest locally, and over 300 ewe lambs have been sold for breeding in the past 12 months.
Lambing started earlier this week, heralding one of the busiest times at Rugley.
Although there are three full-time employees on the farm, this is supplemented by casual help at lambing and harvest-time. "I can only dream about having a shepherd," says Alan.n
Alan Jackson runs a mixed unit on 280ha (690 acres) of the Duke of Northumberlands estate. Main enterprises are arable, beef and sheep.
• A 280ha (690-acre) arable and grass unit in the north east, farmed by Alan and Lorna Jackson on a full agricultural tenancy from the Duke of Northumberland.
• Heavy land growing combinable crops and grass, 25% in the LFA.
• Continental cross beef cattle finished on semi-intensive system.
• British Milksheep producing prime lambs, plus small pedigree Suffolk and Texel enterprises.
• Three full-time employees, supplemented by casual labour.
Rugley Farm 1997 cropping