Crop nutrition is also becoming more biologically focused and a move to liquid fertiliser is allowing Mr Heath to add soil amendments such as molasses to feed the soil.
However, he is keen to reduce reliance on all inputs, focusing more on profit than yield in such a volatile climate.
He says: “We want to get more out from putting less in.
A good example of this is the long history of putting organic manure on and good reserves of P and K, most of which is locked up, so getting biology on side is a must.
“We use Omnia for crop and nutrition planning and interrogate yield maps to see in pounds and pence what is going on.”
Detailed soil tests assess both the buffer pH and fluctuating pH of the soil to aid crop nutrition decisions.
Hutchinsons head of soil services Ian Robertson, says: “Buffer pH is the resting pH.
Normally pH fluctuates throughout the year.
The farm’s buffer pH is 7.2 meaning we are always farming in alkaline soil so we must think nutritionally what will work best? “Detailed soil testing also allows us to understand what’s readily available and [what is] not and how we’re going to cycle it.
For example, you’ve got to know how much phosphate you’ve got to cycle.
Do the measurements and find out available P in kg/hectare.”
A Yara N-Sensor is being used alongside CF Fertiliser’s N-Min Service to measure how much nitrogen is in the soil, and how much will be available to the crop throughout the growing season, for more targeted application.
Richard Watkins, local Hutchinsons agronomist, says: “We know excess nitrogen in crops can worsen disease levels, lodging risk and pest attack.
When we apply nitrogen we are also energising the bacteria and they are very hungry for carbon.
They want easy sources of carbon in order to reproduce.
That can be in the form of certain glues that our other soil biology and fungi produce or it could be from organic matter.
Over the past several decades of aggressive tillage and excessive use of ammonium nitrate, you can see how we’re driving degradation of our soils from a biological standpoint.
“When we’re applying inorganic AN we’re not applying that carbon source, which is an unnatural plant process.
That’s all having an impact on nitrogen use efficiency.
“In terms of cover crops, we want to be growing nitrogen.
Living roots cycle the nutrients.”
The team is also exploring whether certain biological products can aid nutrient uptake including Tiros endophyte seed treatment for improved N uptake in a wheat blend and Corteva’s nutrient efficiency optimiser Utrisha.
Mr Brown adds: “We are also trialling a clover mulch understorey and looking at whether we can keep permanent clover for living roots and soil cover, and generate nitrogen for the crop.”
The ‘boat’ intercrop is also reducing nitrogen demand, with both crops seeing high yields and reduced pest and disease pressure, with zero requirement for nitrogen, says Mr Brown.
“There’s a definite synergy between those two crops.”
The need to be more flexible has triggered other decisions, including a move towards home-saved and untreated seed.
Mr Heath says: “If the weather turns against us, we no longer have a load of treated seed getting old and there’s not that outlay cost.
We haven’t seen any negatives of going down that route to date.”
Gross margins are still on par with previous farming methods, despite lower-than average yields for a couple of years, which Mr Heath puts down to seasonality rather than system change.
“We’ve learned we also have to be more patient, which can be hard when you see everyone else getting on in spring.
However, this type of farming is a lot more interesting and engaging and I’ve never come across such a like-minded community – the confidence it gives you when going down this route is fantastic.”