Rainy weather woes persist

9 February 2001

Rainy weather woes persist

For the fourth in our series

profiling Farmers Weeklys

barometer farms for 2001

Andrew Blake visits Norfolk

HARD decisions have exercised Stuart Knight since his take-over as manager for WH Kerkham at Rhoon Farm, Terrington St Clement, in May 2000.

There have been big cropping changes, not just as a result of appalling autumn weather and considerable investment in machinery, but the labour force on the 865ha (2140 acre) marshland unit is also being halved.

"Unfortunately we have had to make three men redundant," says Mr Knight who previously ran 6000ha (15,000 acres) in Hungary. "Two have been here over 30 years."

Main crops on the farm, which is almost equally owned, rented and contract-farmed, are feed wheats, vining peas, sugar beet and potatoes.

Seven years ago diversification added 4ha (11 acres) of cider apples and 2ha (5 acres) of blackberries, while the potato area was also expanded. "We are the sole supplier of blackberries to Asda. "We had hoped to overcome our problem of over-staffing with intensive cropping," says director Richard Kerkham. "But the changes in agriculture have been so dramatic in the past three years that we have had to re-visit the subject. It has been expensive and traumatic."

"We knew we were over-staffed, and with commodity prices as they are something had to give," says Mr Knight. "To be profitable we have to be efficient."

Among the machinery changes a Claas Challenger 55 270hp tractor has replaced two John Deeres (238hp + 270hp), and a new Lexion 480 25ft cut combine takes over from a 20ft New Holland TX68 and an 18ft Massey RS40. "The combine should be capable of doing what the others did. It will save a man and reduce the number of students we need for grain carting," says Mr Knight.

A 6m Simba Freeflow drill, on demonstration last autumn along with several others, has been retained to augment sowing capacity, previously dependent on a 4m Moore Uni-drill and a power harrow combination.

As part of a BASIS course, Mr Knight is investigating wheat establishment techniques.

Wet weather continues to delay progress for Stuart Knight at Rhoon Farm, near Kings Lynn, where 20ha of potatoes are unlifted and many cereals remain waterlogged.

Environmental improvements a difficult task

Rhoon Farms open, largely treeless nature makes environmental improvement an uphill task in the current economic climate, Mr Kerkham believes.

"We did have a visit a while back from a FWAG officer. But I consider that he regarded it as a lost cause. We do not have any fresh water or woods to link into, which makes things difficult.

"It is also frustrating that as soon as people go for Countryside Stewardship the money seems to have run out."

More recently however ADAS officers have carried out a re-assessment as part of the governments free farm consultation package, notes Mr Knight.

"We are still waiting to hear their views."

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