Brian Barker: “Once in a lifetime opportunity for my farming career”

Suffolk grower Brian Barker is one year into running AHDB’s first strategic farm for cereals and oilseeds – he says his data it is already producing surprising results.

Brian Barker farms 513ha in a family partnership near Westhorpe in Suffolk. He grows winter wheat, herbage grass seed, spring linseed, winter barley, spring beans and is thinking of sowing canary seed this season.

What are AHDB strategic farms?

They are the next step to the monitor farms, which allow farmers to compare and discuss what’s happening on one farm for three years.

As a strategic farm, we’ll work with AHDB for six years to run trials on our farm. A network of farms is being created to share knowledge and help other farmers start their own trials.

We were a monitor farm and became the country’s first strategic farm in November last year.

We design our trials with an AHDB knowledge exchange manager and a steering group of 12 farmers. Everything is funded by the levy board.

Why are you taking part?

To be involved in this programme at this level is a no-brainer. I have scientists from NIAB and ADAS coming onto my farm and I have access to all of AHDB’s contacts.

It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity for my farming career – it’s a lot of extra work, but the knowledge I’ll gain about my farm will reap rewards in the long term.

What trials are you running?

The first year we spent getting baseline data for our soil, water, weather and our current farming system.

We’ve started an input trial with five wheat varieties treated with four levels of chemical input to allow full cost of production analysis to be carried out after harvest.

We’ve also compared nitrogen run-off from a field with cover crops to one that is ploughed. The cover crops made a huge difference – the water coming out had lower nitrogen levels than the rain water coming in.

What have you learnt?

Every year is different. Don’t get too hooked on statistics, such as statistical yield, because there are so many other variables.

We are trying to create a stronger plant through improving soil structure, nutrients and disease management. If we can reduce inputs out of a can as a result, then we’ll be reducing our reliance on products and can reduce our costs.

Brian will be chairing the Crop Establishment seminar at The CropTec Show – find out more here.

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