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be believed. This autumn, with our Vaderstad Rexus cultivator behind, we created ideal drilling conditions despite the lack of soil moisture which wouldn’t have been possible without the combination.” The Xerion’s 850/75R38 flotation tyres perform well but meant extrawide bodies were needed for the plough. “Working our heavy land on those tyres we achieve similar performance to a tracked machine, but with better weight distribution and easier movement between farms,” Edward commented; “It’s an excellent alternative to tracks.”
Farmed by soil type Land across the blocks is farmed in joint rotations, by soil type. Most land at Stanton is heavy clay loam and at Hengrave it ranges from sandy loam to clay loam from field to field. The Troston land tends to be Breckland sandy loam, so light it can blow, and the smaller parcels are mainly medium loams. Four or five-course rotations are practised at Troston and Hengrave on the lighter land, including winter barley, winter rye, maize, forage rye and sugar beet. The maize is grown for two local AD plants as is some of the rye, with the rest of the rye sold to Ryvita. On heavier land, crops are first wheat, spring beans or a second wheat or oilseed rape, with the cropping decision made with considerable regard to black-grass. Wheats are for the quality market, with Group 2s trialled this year as part of the strategy to move from Group 4s. Crop establishment techniques are season dependent, but ploughing is always used ahead of beans, sometimes for second cereals as well as for sugar beet and maize. “We have significant weed beet issues,” explained Edward. “They
are so severe we have seen beet yields halved in some areas and we are trying everything to combat the problem but, with seeds in the soil profile, tackling them is a constant challenge. Like most farms in the region we have looked at sugar beet carefully regarding its future inclusion in our cropping but the situation has improved this past year with British Sugar more encouraging, so I believe it will stay. We use contractors for lifting and for haulage we use British Sugar’s own scheme which works well.” The two AD plants supplied are within a few miles of the farm boundaries; one at Saxham, next to Claas UK’s headquarters and one at Euston, a few miles from Stanton and Troston. “Inclusion of crops for the AD plant helps our rotation and assists our fight against some weeds as the whole plant is removed,” he said.
Challenges Edward said the fight against blackgrass is complex, but it should start with simple techniques and good practise. “It thrives in wet conditions, but we have areas where drains don’t run even after prolonged heavy rain,” he explained. “Obviously something isn’t right and we have started mole ploughing to improve the situation, with guidance from a soil specialist. We have done 40ha (100 acres) so far and this is on-going.” An armoury of chemicals has been brought into play including Avadex (tri-allate), applied by a local contractor, then a stack of preemergence sprays. “There is no single solution and it has spread to our light land too,” said Edward. “Spring cropping helps, we create stale seedbeds after the combine and have moved to tine cultivation replacing discs. Last autumn we left some fields fallow as the situation was so bad and I wasn’t prepared to waste time and money trying to grow a profitable
Spring bean drilling performance is checked by Edward (right) and farm foreman Mike Morris.
crop on a carpet of black-grass.” Edward said external issues have further compounded the problem. “Last year a severe hailstorm passed over three of our farms, flattening the oilseed rape and causing huge crop losses. The resulting conditions created a perfect habitat for slugs and tackling them became the immediate priority.”
Ground has to be right Edward inherited variable soil condition and structure across the farms and said his spade has been used extensively to identify problems and priorities for improvements. “That’s very much a feature of my background,” explained Edward. “Digging holes is the best way to identify soil structure problems and decide what work is needed. Past crops of sugar beet haven’t helped and we are seeing issues now from damage caused many years ago. We will be keeping an eye on lifting and field transport in future but this year’s crop came out well, in close to ideal conditions with little field damage. “Our heavy land, in particular, is susceptible to compaction,” he continued, “and I will prioritise soil condition when deciding on field operations. We must tackle black-grass
The Xerion is superb said Edward, pictured with operator Mark Curtis, adding that its crab-steer capability makes it ideal for seedbed preparation.
and delay drilling as far as practical, but we also have to carry out field work in a timely fashion, when soil conditions are suitable, otherwise we compromise future cropping.” Edward regards the two pig enterprises on the farm’s rented land as beneficial to his soil improvement efforts and commented that maize grown on fields following outdoor pigs does especially well. Slurry and manure from an indoor finishing unit at Hengrave is applied, providing nutrients and increasing organic matter. Staffing includes Edward, a farm foreman, a tractor driver and two additional part-time harvest workers. An office administrator looks after farm paperwork and assists Edward in the management of more than 20 properties between the 5 farms. “Like other farms, we find it difficult to recruit students with the skills and enthusiasm needed,” pointed out Edward. “In the past, farms could choose from large numbers of applicants, but now there aren’t enough to go around and there is competition between farms to attract the best.” Average field size across the farms is 10–12ha (24–30 acres) and there is woodland in four main blocks including 3 SSSIs at Stanton and one on the Breckland at Troston. Hengrave also has several smaller areas of woodland. Countryside Stewardship applications for three of the four main blocks have been made recently for the mid-tier category including particular emphasis on the preservation of stone curlews. A very unusual feature at Stanton, which is protected, is a centuriesold, hand dug gorge. Local folklore explains its presence by the need to keep members of two villages separate and, although Edward isn’t convinced by the explanation, he is proud of the earthworks and enjoys the interest they create. continued over...
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Farmers Guide Magazine May 2017 Issue