Monday, 12 January 2015

Wychall School Visit

A rather cold and windy day greeted the school children from Wychall School in Birmingham as they visited the farm today.  However after the forecast on Friday we managed to stay outside all day, which was a bonus.  The children started off being split into 4 groups, the first looking at the vegetables being grown in the kitchen garden.  There isn't much at this time of year but a healthy supply of sprouts, cabbages, leeks and potatoes.  The second group called in at the green house and inspected the limes and flowers, from much warmer climates.  The third group came along with me to look at habitats and sheep.  Standing by the field entrance how many habitats could we see?  We easily spotted parkland trees, woodland, grassland, verges and a pond, a great game of eye spy.  The last group went to the Estate workshop to meet up with Alan and Simon to learn about the types of wood we use; and to make what, on the Estate and what a diverse natural material it is! The children all rotated around the four groups for an hour, with the movement keeping everyone warm! 
After a very hearty soup, made with vegetables the children saw earlier in the day growing in the kitchen garden and a warm up in the village hall; it was off in the coach to have a look at a field of Oilseed Rape.  Here we looked at the roots and earthworms, all helping to improve the soil and re-cycle the previous crop material.  Apart form someone falling over in the mud, everyone had a great day out and headed back to Birmingham with the fresh air filling their lungs. 

Friday, 2 January 2015

Interest In Cover Cropping

In the run up to Christmas I hosted almost 100 farmers on three different visits to look at the Cover Crop trials that we planted back in August and September.  The seed was generously supplied by Kings and used in a trial to look at the benefits and costs of using cover crops in the farm rotation. Cover crops have only recently come to my attention through my Nuffield Farming Scholarship Trust award to look at increasing wheat yields n the UK.  Although we have been using turnips and forage rape for years as a sheep feed through the winter period, there is so much more a cover crop can deliver other than feeding ewes or lambs through the winter.  The cover crop idea has also sprung into life as they can count towards Ecological Focus Areas (EFA's) in the the new Common Agricultural Policy.  In total we have planted 11 different mixes or single variety species to see what benefits or negative effects can be measured..
Paul Brown (above) from Kings, demonstrating the tap rooting ability of radishes to push down into the soil to break up compaction caused by farm machinery.  The ability of all of the mixes to scavenge for nitrogen and phosphate that would otherwise be lost from the field is tremendous, and if your include vetches into the mix their ability to fix nitrogen form the atmosphere is staggering.  The plot of straight vetch analysed at over 30% protein and was holding over 200Kg/Ha of nitrogen that will be available for the following crop!  Species in the various mixes included, mustard, forage rye, vetch, radish, oat, berseem clover, phacelia, buckwheat and linseed.  The mixes have been assessed by NIAB as part of our Kellogg's Origins Group, looking at ways in which we can farm in a more environmentally and financially sustainable way.

The crops certainly tick all of those boxes by: intercepting sunlight through the autumn and winter, turning it into carbon (plant matter) to improve soil organic matter levels (when decomposing); help remove compaction by aggressive rooting; locking up nutrients that would otherwise be washed through the soil into the environment; provide valuable late season pollen and nectar sources (bees using ours until November), provide a nutritious balanced diet for overwintering stock: stabilise and protect the soil surface from heavy rainfall events.  It is almost all positive effects form these crops bar the creation of a lovely slug habitat.  This will need watching and monitoring through the winter and into the drilling period to keep on top of the slippery problem!

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Catch 22

What a difference a fortnight makes. Turning the clock back to less than 2 weeks ago in fact; the soil was hard, dry with anything that had been cultivated over the summer period and not rolled to conserve the moisture. The dreaded Blackgrass was sitting dormant in the dust refusing to germinate and succumb to cheap effective glyphosate, we needed some rain. Then on the 4th October it started to rain. Brilliant we all thought, a few good steady showers to soften the ground and get the weeds to grow but then we seem to have shifted from summer straight into winter with 62.2mm of rain falling in the following 10 days.

On the positive side the Blackgrass flush is well and truly under-way and so, when we do get drilling again we should have a much cleaner seedbed in which to plant and less competition from this invasive weed in the crop. The only question is when are we likely to be able to get drilling again?

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Harvest Update From the Eyes in the Sky

Harvest is progressing well with some spectacular summer weather, which is making harvesting the crops cheaper and easier than for the last few years.  We started harvesting seed crops of winter barley on the 14th July, on the sand and gravel land with good yields considering the warm weather.  I think growing crops that ripen nice and early on that type of land could be the way forward.  Yields have been above our average and the quality on the first few fields has been good.  After cutting the barley we moved onto oilseed rape which was very dry, with moistures down as low as 6%, ideally it needs to be about 7-8% for a small moisture bonus without losing too much weight.
After a few days harvesting the oilseed rape we moved up onto Bredon Hill to start the Cassata winter barley which we grow for Molson Coors as part of the growers group supplying malting barley to be brewed into Carling beer.  While we were combining on the hill Adam, a neighbour who has just bought a drone with a video camera attached, came up to take some footage of the combine harvesting the crop and the results were spectacular.  You can see one of them here Harvest Log 7 It was a great opportunity and the combine undoing in to the trailer was fantastic.  The footage also shows the compaction, caused by the harvest traffic of trailers and tractors, on the headlands which is not great for the following crop.  We even managed to catch the imagination of Simon Mayo's Drive Time radio show when being interviewed about this years harvest on the 23rd July and made it onto his Facebook page

The drone was very simple to fly, so easy Adam actually let me have a go at landing it! The 10-80 hd camera is fixed onto a gimble so the stability of the camera was very impressive and it's all delivered ready to fly and the images are beamed back via wifi to your telephone held on a stand on the controls.  The shot below is from the video and gives you an idea of the different angles and aspects that can be achieved.

We're now on Day 8 of the harvest and we will finish the winter barley tonight before moving back into oilseed rape for a couple more days.  After then we could have a break for a day or two while we wait for the wheat on the light land to ripen.

Friday, 30 May 2014

Open Farm Sunday-8th June

Come rain or shine we will be taking part, along with almost 400 other farmers around the country, in this years Open Farm Sunday.  The annual event is organised by LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming) and it is a great day out for all the family.  If you are interested in having a look around a farm to see how your food is grown and how farmers look after the countryside go to the website, type in your postcode and get searching!
We are conducting guided tours around the farm, lasting for about 1.5 hours and taking in some of the tremendous views form the top of Bredon Hill overlooking Cheltenham.  We'll be stopping off at Overbury Stud to visit the horses before heading towards Beckford and heading up the Yellow Brick Road.  We will stop off to look at the arable land and how we are using different crops to protect our valuable soil and increasing the populations of earth worms in our soil.  After this it is off around the hill escarpment to look at pollen and nectar mixes designed to provide much needed pollen and nectar for all of our pollinators and recently planted wild bird food seed mixes.  These are not not harvested but left through the winter to provide valuable winter feed for our farmland birds.  Following on we will be sampling some fresh peas before returning via the Park to look at our sheep flock  then on to the village hall.
Trailers are setting off from the village hall at 9.30, 11.30 2 and 4pm.  Places are limited so you will need to call the Estate Office (01386 725111) or e-mail 

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Spring Drilling Roundup

We started planting the spring crops on the 19th March into fairly good conditions considering the amount of winter rainfall we have had this year.  It's one advantage of having Cotswold Brash soil; which is very thin and has a deep layer of Limestone underneath which is relatively free draining.  The downside is that without summer rainfall yield can be limited.  We started off drilling at the top of the hill into a sprayed of cover crop of Forage Rye.  This crop was planted in September 2013 and its purpose was to cover the soil creating a layer of organic matter to intercept the rain through the winter, reducing soil erosion and run off.  What a year to start cover cropping!  The forage rye was sprayed off with Glyphosate mixed with liquid Nitrogen fertiliser 5 days before drilling and the cross slot drill then went and planted the seeds directly into the the crop residue.  
This variety of spring barley is called Tipple and is being grown as part of our Molson Coors Growers Group tonnage to go to the Shobnal Malting later this summer to be brewed into Carling Lager. This method moves very little soil resulting in far less mineralisation of nitrogen through reduced carbon disturbance.  It is better for our carbon emissions into the atmosphere, the soil, the water and the environment.
After drilling this field the Cross Slot drill moved down the slope to plant Propino Spring Barley which we are growing for seed for Frontier Agriculture which should hopefully be used by the Molson Coors Growers Group farmers next spring.  The drill coped very well with the amount of surface residue that was not grazed by the ewes during the winter.  There has been plenty of slug activity in the heavy land areas of the field after drilling and before emergence so we have had to apply a dose of Sluxx slug pellets to control, them. 
After about 10 days the crops had germinated well and they emerged within 2 weeks.  The picture below shows the emerging crop pushing up through the previous crop residue.  The stalks are what remains of the mustard cover crop after the sheep had eaten the leaves off.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Cross Slot And Cover Crops Farm Walk

Basking in the first real sunshine of the spring, and on what turned out to be the hottest day of the year so far; in conduction with Agrii we hosted a fan walk looking at direct drilling and the use of cover crops on the farm.  We had farmers from as far a field as Kent (Tom Sewell and Guy Eckley) and Lincolnshire (Jono Dixon) and Wiltshire (George Hosier) as well as many closer to home.  The interest shown and the discussions started really made for a very interesting and educational day. 
We talked about drilling techniques and could direct drilling have an effect on weed populations and what about slugs with more crop residue (not trash) on the crop surface?  Can we control these issues more effectively with better, longer crop rotations, direct drilling and with less reliance on pesticides?  We talked about subsoiling and should we be doing it or whether we could use cover crops, as demonstrated by Jono (below) to do the subsoiling for us?
The roots of the cover crops can easily go down to 1m over an autumn and winter if planted early enough; the ideal time is when the combine is still in the field, when moisture is usually available to get the crop off to the perfect start, or even spun into the crop pre-harvest.
We also talked about the blend, or the mix of the cover crops and what purpose they are being grown for.  Are they there to protect the soil surface, or to remove compaction or to increase organic matter or to provide a winter forage supply for the livestock?  We also talked about nitrogen fertiliser and should we be investing in fertiliser to maximise the benefits of the crop and the financial investment of the seed?  It really was a great morning of very thought provoking idea sharing.  We ended up in the Yew Tree pub for chips and sandwiches before everyone headed home.  Thanks to everyone who turned up and contributed, and to Agrii for supplying the bacon rolls and the lunch!