Biog: Conor Colgan farms at Lowick Hall Farm, near Berwick on Tweed. The farm is 700-acres, and the enterprises are an arable rotation of wheat, barley, oilseed rape, oats and beans. He also has an 80-cow suckler beef herd. Six years ago Conor completed an MBA at the Royal Agricultural University; his thesis was on Lean Management, a technique used extensively by efficiency-critical sectors like the car industry. As part of his study, he undertook a complete Lean audit of every process on the farm. He says that this has made him exceptionally judicious about what system changes he makes and whether the introduction of a new practice will improve the value it delivers to his end markets and business bottom-line. “If it doesn’t, I won’t do it.”
Title: Innovations must be farm-relevant
The innovations that have most benefited my farm all centre on GPS technologies and soil mapping.
I’ve used SOYL to map my fields with the dual aim of generating a more consistent yield from my lower indices fields and adopting a precision approach to applying P to the seedbed and K during the growing season. The net result has been a recovery of soil indices and an improvement in crop yields.
This approach works well for the scale of my operation and because I have a lot of variation in indices. For farms where soils are similar, I suspect that the returns may not be so good.
I feel that the environment for fostering innovation in the arable sector was hit badly when we lost our national advisory service. When ADAS in its old guise went, we lost the prism to assess innovation for our industry.
R&D is now in the hands of the supply chain and its results are used to sell products or kit. There are too few independent trials from the like of AHDB to assess how these new commercial introductions really perform on farm.
So it is beholden on farmers themselves to prove whether a new technology or innovation will actually deliver the purported returns in their own farm situation.
In the future, I think it is really important for organisations like AHDB, TEAGASC and SRUC to analyse the impact of new developments on a range of different farms, soil types and scale of operation. This work would give us the clarity we need to truly compare market introductions, and not take the manufacturer’s word for the projected improvements we’ll gain.
I foresee that investment into genetics and access to GM technologies will become the essential innovation for the coming decades, particularly if issues like Septoria resistance threaten the viability of wheat production in the UK.