Manager of the Wicken Farms Company, King’s Lynn, Norfolk, since 2018, Toby Hogsbjerg oversees 1,000 hectares of sand-based soils with low organic matter.
While black-grass isn’t a major problem, a significant area of spring crops is grown, partly because they slot in after roots, which include sugar beet and potatoes.
The farm switched away some time ago from oilseed rape as its main break, largely because of flea beetle/ loss of seed treatment issues.
“Since I’ve been here it doesn’t seem to have stopped raining,” says Mr Hogsbjerg.
While we’ve typically aimed to drill wheat up until the end of January, in the past two years that month has been a wet write-off, so I’ve made a December cut-off decision.
“However, early in the year we still have sugar beet lifting to finish, 80ha each of onions and potatoes to prepare for, 100ha of sugar beet to drill, 40ha of peas to put in, turkey litter to put on and fertiliser to apply.
If we don’t get spring barley in here early enough then it doesn’t perform.
So I need alternatives.
“The estate has been growing combining peas for three years.
When I came here in winter 2018 we had oilseed rape in the ground, but it didn’t perform and doesn’t really fit with the cropping system, while because of the roots in the rotation we can’t use sewage sludge to get the crop away.
“So I brought in peas to replace oilseed rape and ease the workload.
It’s an easy crop to grow on this land.
I’ve never had a great affinity for growing beans and on this ground I don’t think they’d be as profitable as peas.
Downy mildew “Although some regard beans as a crop requiring little input, issues such as chocolate spot can soon change that.
With peas, downy mildew may come in, but there’s little that can be done about it.
The odd aphicide might be required in a bad year, but other than that the crop usually requires not much more than some fungicide, biostimulants and trace elements.
And if necessary we can irrigate peas if it gets really dry before flowering.”
Having grown Daytona and then Mankato, Mr Hogsbjerg was approached last year by LSPB with a view to growing 10 hectares of Carrington for seed.
“We drilled on April 1 at approximately 200kg/ha depending on thousand grain weight, using a power harrow combination after ploughing and pressing.
I think a firm, level, even seedbed and sufficient drilling depth are essential, as after that there’s little you can do for crop establishment.
The seedbed, which had received a dose of Potash Plus before drilling, was then rolled and a pre-em tank-mix of Nirvana (imazamox + pendimethalin) and Centium (clomazone) applied to not only aid general weed control but also suppress volunteer potatoes.
“Subsequent husbandry comprised a first fungicide plus foliar manganese, Bittersalz and Exseed Peas biostimulant, followed later by a second fungicide plus boron, magnesium and molybdenum following a tissue test.”
As with most combinable crops, the dull August did affect maturity, and the later than-planned cut – around a month later than anticipated, on September 8, having prioritised milling wheat crops – did affect the colour slightly, says Mr Hogsbjerg.
“As a seed crop, we had to let drying take place naturally.
But the combine driver was actually quite relieved to get to them as they remained standing far better than the 100ha of another variety he’d just battled to cut.
I think that also helped with disease resistance as it didn’t suffer the downy mildew we’d seen in other varieties.
An average yield of 3.9t/ha equated to a total of 38.08 tonnes sold, which, at a price of £290/t, created a gross margin of £708/ha and a net margin of £450/ha.
“Peas fit for us where we’re maxed out on root crops and need a break crop to make the difference, so areas rise and fall depending on the year.
There are few break crop alternatives on a farm of this scale.
“If I can get a seed contract and get the crop cut and away as soon as possible to match my storage, then it works well.
And while it’s not a significant factor, the nitrogen legacy benefit is a help to get the next first wheat crop away, meaning we can cut 30-40kg/ha N from the requirements of a following feed variety.”