Small fields and rental bills dictate flexibility

26 February 1999

Small fields and rental bills dictate flexibility

For the eighth and final

article in the series profiling

our 1999 barometer farms,

Andrew Swallow travelled

to Killyleagh, south of

Belfast, to meet

Graham Furey

SMALL fields and annual rental agreements dominate Graham Fureys cropping plans.

He farms about 210ha (520 acres) of land near Killyleagh, in Co Down, Northern Ireland. Over 60% of that is on annual "conacre" lets and his average IACS registered field size is just 3ha (7 acres).

That limits work rates and means long-term rotational plans are impossible. "We have a sound rotation of grass and breaks on our own land. But on conacre ground I only start to think about what I would grow next year as I combine the crop – if we get the land."

Break crop choice is ruled by the wetter, shorter growing season in the province. But Mr Furey has experimented more than most. "We had the only winter linseed crop in Northern Ireland in 1997," he points out. This year some spring linseed may be planted, if he can get hold of seed. "It is the last year for big subsidies, we have grown it before, and we have a local market."

Otherwise spring barley and Eiffel or Espace peas will occupy the 70ha (170 acres) still to drill. That is 40% more than planned due to the atrocious autumn.

"We should have had over 100 acres of first wheats and 15 acres of winter oats. But we only got 85 acres of wheat drilled and 25 acres has needed re-sowing."

The 38ha (95 acres) of mid-October drilled winter barley looks better, but like the wheat, it has yet to receive any herbicide (see below right). Pastoral and Regina make up the bulk of the area, with Jewel and Angela on a trial basis. Wheats are Claire, Buchan and Weston, chosen for their standing power.

Marketing is strictly local, with 80% of produce going to two local pig farms. "They are both very efficient but nonetheless the situation in that industry is a concern," he notes. A small proportion of the wheat, barley and peas are fed on farm to beef stores and sheep. The balance goes to local mills.

Storage is on floor with space for 500t, but not assured. "At £45/yr the cost is not prohibitive. Its just that we havent needed it," he stresses. Barley usually moves at harvest as a cash crop and straw provides additional income.

Agronomic information is drawn from ARC bulletins, the Department of Agriculture Northern Ireland, and his chemicals supplier. "The ARC provide some very useful bulletins – like the recent one on spring weed control where winter cereals have not been treated. And our chemicals supplier is a bit of cocktails specialist."

Reduced water volumes and low drift nozzles help squeeze 4ha (10acres) per tank out of the 12m Allman 625 sprayer. High disease risk in the moist climate rules out calling in contractors for spraying.

"It is the last operation I would leave to contractors. If I see disease on Sunday, I need to be out spraying on Monday – often early in the morning or late at night.

"There is no blackgrass, and few wild oats. However, sterile brome is appearing, and fumitory is becoming a problem. "It is increasing where neighbours insist on using Ally year on year."

A buying group proved a success for seed supplies last year. But agrochemicals were as cheap from his regular sources so he is undecided whether to stay with the group.

A third of the farm is fit for potatoes, so about 10ha (25 acres) is let each year. "We made £175/acre last year, and there is talk of £350-400/acre this year. But we wont push for that price because Id rather attract growers who will look after the ground."

On his own families land at Castleview farm and to the south near Downpatrick, hedges have been removed to increase field size. "But if we took any more out now we would have people like Friends of the Earth on our backs very quickly. We dont want the prairies of East Anglia but 12-15 acre fields would be nice," he concludes.


Small fields, 60% annual rents

Local feed markets for grain

Gap year student only labour

Land contract ploughed

Own spraying and combining

210ha total, 140ha arable.

Medium soil, shallow in parts

Typical yields:

1st Wht 8t/ha

2nd Wht 6.8-7.4t/ha

W.Bly 6.8-7.4t/ha

S.Bly 4.9 t/ha

Peas 3.7t/ha

Straw: Wht £22.50/t, Bly £27.50/t.


&#8226 Small fields, 60% annual rents.

&#8226 Local feed markets for grain.

&#8226 Gap year student only labour.

&#8226 Land contract ploughed.

&#8226 Own spraying and combining.

210ha total, 140ha arable.

&#8226 Medium soil, shallow in parts.

&#8226 Typical yields:

1st Wht 8t/ha

2nd Wht 6.8-7.4t/ha

W.Bly 6.8-7.4t/ha

S.Bly 4.9 t/ha

Peas 3.7t/ha

&#8226 Straw: Wht £22.50/t, Bly £27.50/t.

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