Biog: Andrew Ward farms 730ha of arable land near Leadenham, Lincs. He grows wheat, spring barley, sugar beet and oilseed rape. He was awarded his MBE for Forage Aid in 2014 which he launched in April 2013 to gather up donated forage and straw to help farmers in the north and west during times of snow and flood. He is Chairman of the AHDB RL oilseeds committee, is an Agrii i-Farm trials site and a graduate of the IAgrM Leadership Development Programme. Andrew believes in strong partnerships with suppliers to farming, which include Agrii, AHDB, BASF, Bayer, Clydesdale Bank, GrowHow, Househam Sprayers, Monsanto, NIAB-TAG, Simba Great Plains and Syngenta. He is a McDonald’s Flagship Farm, has hosted two Cereal Events, won Farmers Weekly Arable Farmer of the Year, NFU/Farmers Weekly’s Farming Champion for helping snow-struck farmers and Farmers Guardian Farming Hero award for his part in the Somerset floods response team.
Three things: Cracking crops, blackgrass banished, tough market
Four years ago I made the tough decision to do everything I could to get on top of blackgrass. It was so bad that it had made my wheat totally unviable – wheat yields were halved, or worse, where blackgrass was really bad; plus herbicide costs were huge and their effectiveness was poor because of resistance. So I’ve evolved from all winter-cropping to 40% spring barley, 25% wheat, 30% oilseed rape and the rest sugar beet.
Any patch of blackgrass was sprayed out with RoundUp – with the growing crop, to stop it from shedding its seed. In year one we sprayed out 170acres, year two it was around 150 acres, year three it was down to 65 acres, year four 23acres and this year there were only three patches the size of two tennis courts each. Last season the only blackgrass herbicides I used were RoundUp and Crystal or Liberator pre-em.
I’ve also spent £36/acre on hand rogueing the blackgrass – 21 Easter Europeans in three teams. They’ve walked 1100 acres. It’s been very labour intensive and it’s taken a lot of supervision by me, but it’s meant that we’ve got down to almost nil blackgrass on the farm after four years.
What I’ve come to see is that it’s a fallacy to say that a) you can’t grow spring barley on heavy land; and b) that you have to have wheat in the rotation to be profitable. If you’ve got blackgrass, the returns from spring barley are much, much better.
But I know that I need to keep on top of the blackgrass it’s a viscious triffid of a plant, and I’m very expectant that it will evolve and start to become an issue in other ways, for example germinating later, or even in the spring.
So I’ve started working with Agrii on cover crops in earnest to improve the soil structure. We are trialling five different crop mixtures this year. We’ll spray RoundUp before we drill, then we will compare killing off half pre-Christmas and half pre spring barley drilling and see what works best from the combination of approaches and mixes.
Minimal disturbance is the name of the game for establishment – we’ve adapted and developed our own direct sowing kit and cultivate everything after the combine – including the spring barley ground.
Yields have been cracking this year, the spring barley has averaged 10.2t/ha compared with 9.2t/ha last year.
Variety-wise, I’ll be drilling Skyfall, Reflection, Revelation and Evolution this coming season, and I’ll be drilling Skyfall onto the poorer heath ground – where it’s yielded 4.2t/acre this year. The variety seems to do really well on poorer ground. I always delay drilling to allow for as many stale seedbeds as I can. Oilseed rape varieties for next season will be V316OL and V324OL.
Looking ahead with prices where they are and ongoing market volatility, I’m going to be looking very seriously at machinery costs. I’m not sure how farmers can justify kit like the Cross Slot drill at £220k unless they get rid of every other piece of equipment apart from a spray and a set of Cambridge Rolls. I’m going to be looking into a second-hand John Deere drill next year as a way of keeping costs low.
Good GPS kit is – and will remain – invaluable. And it needs to be the good kit that’s down to a couple of centimetre accuracy. I use RTK GPS and I’ve worked out that using it has saved me 26ha in spraying overlaps every time we spray. From a cost and an environmental point of view – this is hugely valuable.
If I was to ask R&D manufacturers what us farmers need next, I’d say more work on direct drilling and minimal soil disturbance – particularly on heavy land; and a way of applying slug pellets at the same time. We also need more collaborative work on cultural control options – not just of weeds.
Want to find out more about how to tackle blackgrass, the latest technology & innovation, precision farming and research and development in the arable sector? make sure you visitCropTec on Tuesday 24th & Wednesday 25th November, East of England Showground, Peterborough.
To encourage knowledge exchange among the British farming community further, this year’s event is FREE for farmers to attend. You MUST pre-register online to ensure you receive your free place.