Wheat yields of 10t/ha planned for new decade
In the first of our articles
weeklys 1998 barometer
farms, Charles Abel
travelled to West Sussex.
Here he reports how a yield
target of 10t/ha is being
SINCE moving to Wephurst Park Farm three years ago Patrick Godwin has boosted average wheat yields from 7.4t/ha (3t/acre) to 8.6t/ha (3.5t/acre). His goal is 10t/ha (4t/acre) by harvest 2000.
Mr Godwin, who manages the 243ha (600-acre) unit, has a clear plan in mind to meet that goal. "Early drilling, good seed-beds, varieties with premium potential and appropriate use of inputs are the keys to farming this land successfully."
Alongside the 184ha (454 acres) of combinable crop, he runs a 130-cow Jersey herd on maize and short-term leys, plus over-wintering sheep.
Wheat is the cornerstone of the rotation. But take-all is so bad on the Weald clay that second wheats dont get a look in. "We tried it one year, and the crop was a disaster. It went for wholecrop and not very good wholecrop at that."
Mr Godwin now awaits news of Monsantos anti-take-all fungicide. In the meantime the rotation is typically wheat, winter oats, wheat, winter rape or maize and wheat again.
Lower aid rates for rape under Agenda 2000 plans for CAP reform mean alternatives are being evaluated. Winter linseed disappointed last year, so spring peas will be tested this year.
Wheat varieties are aimed at premium markets, with Brigadier and Consort this years choices. "We can get a consistent 3.5t/acre and we know we can sell those varieties. Last years crop has already gone at a £2-3/t premium over feed. Knowing it has somewhere to go is worth a lot."
Although grass weed levels are low, with no blackgrass and hand rogueable wild oats, seed growing is not an option. "Our on-floor store is fine for two varieties, but you couldnt keep seed lots separate."
Last harvest oats and linseed were sold off the combine. "We got a good price and it gave us cash flow at a useful time," Mr Godwin notes.
Establishment is seen as the time for setting cereal yields. "Anything after that is merely protecting potential created at drilling time."
With that in mind land is untouched from harvest to drilling day. The plough is followed by a 4m (13.1ft) power harrow/drill combination with a front mounted furrow press and seed-beds are rolled the same day.
"I admit its costly. But it means we plough up moisture for drilling into in a dry season, and drier ground to drill in if it turns wet. It gives us the flexibility we need," says Mr Godwin.
"Id also rather spend money then, to get the crop away right and avoid the risk of wasting inputs on an indifferent crop later in the year."
Drilling aims to end by the last day of September. "Leave it much later and youre paddling about feeding slugs. The farm used to drill in October and the men laughed when I said wed end in September. But it has given us the yield response were looking for," enthuses Mr Godwin.
Seed rates have been dropped year on year, now starting at 200-220 seeds/sq m and rising to 300 in late September.
Soil structure is looked after, with tramlines sub-soiled, double wheels and low inflation pressures used widely, a Willmot Lightspray lgp vehicle used for spraying and slurry supplied to set-aside to improve organic matter contents. "Its paying off – ploughing gets easier each year."
Before Mr Godwin arrived P and K reserves were poor, with six fields showing 0/0 indices. "Its going to cost us a bit to get those back, but we must."
Crop inputs are set by Mr Godwin and field adviser Nigel Troubridge of distributor Barth-olomews in Chichester. "Ive never felt cutting inputs is the way to improve margins, even at current prices. Having said that most manufacturers include a safety margin in their recommendations, so we will adjust rates, but only if the product, timing and conditions are all right."
Indeed he sees an important role for new inputs in pushing wheat yields over 10t/ha. "We tried the new strobilurin Ensign on alternate tramlines last year and crops stayed greener for noticeably longer – were expecting fairly substantial yield increases from this group of chemistry."
Achieving extra output is vital, not just to maintain profitability, but to allow investment in new machinery too. "We can only keep putting machinery back together again for so long."
An average wheat yield of 10t/ha is not unreasonable, Mr Godwin argues. "Were not achieving our potential yields yet at all."
• Over the coming months FW readers will be kept fully informed of Mr Godwins battle to boost yields. Next week we head to Norfolk to hear how our Eastern barometer farmer manages his crops.
Pushing average wheat yields from 7.4t/ha to 10t/ha is the goal of southern barometer farmer Patrick Godwin, seen here with sprayer operator Robin Matthews last autumn.
WEPHURST PARK FARM
• 184ha arable, plus maize and grass for 130 Jersey cows.
• Heavy Weald clay to loam.
• Good seed-beds vital.
• Early drilling and reduced seed rates work well.
• Maximise first wheats.
• 10t/ha (4t/acre) wheat goal.
"Its good news," asserts Mr Godwin. "We ought to be able to say, hand on heart, that were doing the job right and what we produce is of merchantable quality and we need to be able to prove it. For a lot of people it will help draw things together, just making sure everything gets done as its supposed to. Well probably join in year two, after treating year one as a dummy run. We still need to get our records and grain storage right up to scratch. But at 50p/t it is expensive and I think we ought to have some sort of premium in return, even if it is only preferential treatment in the marketplace. Its also wrong that unassured produce will still be imported."