Huntingdon Monitor farm launch
Over 70 people, including local farmers and a group of students from Moulton College, attended the first meeting of the Huntingdon Monitor Farm hosted by Russell McKenzie, just outside Kimbolton, on Thursday 11 December.
Part of the exercise at this launch event was to identify the main arable issues facing the farmers in the room, which will then be covered during the three years of the programme.
Russell McKenzie farms 750ha on predominantly heavy clay on the border between Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire. He grows seed on contract as well as soft and feed wheat, and his usual rotation is wheat, OSR and spring beans, although he has recently introduced winter barley. A Nuffield Scholar, Russell has been researching direct drilling in extreme weather, travelling to New Zealand, Australia, the United States, Brazil and Argentina.
Russell answered the call to become a Monitor Farmer a year ago and has spent the last 12 months putting together a steering group of local growers to help run the programme.
Tim Isaac, AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds Regional Manager, said: “The Monitor Farm works like a live case study because it goes through the same issues as other farms in the area. It’s a typical arable business, so we can look at real issues in real time.”
This open meeting in Huntingdon was the last of sixteen new AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds Monitor Farms launched in England and Wales during 2014 and brings the total number in the UK to 20.
During the event, breakout groups analysed the issues facing their own farms and the wider arable industry – the top ten identified were:
- Financial performance
- Extreme weather
- Grass weed control, resistance and rotations
- Labour – new entrants and succession
- Legislation and CAP reform
- Machinery selection and replacement
- Marketing and end use requirements
- Soil management and cultivation
- The costs and benefits of precision farming
- Use of technology, research and the Recommended List
Tim Isaac said: “The first point raised was on profitability and this really highlights the importance of benchmarking and discussions around costs of production. Every pound that a business can save is absolutely worthwhile. During the three-year project we will be making use of AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds’ CropBench+ tool to help members of the group analyse their costs.”
The Monitor Farm event finished with a short walk at Hoo Farm, by kind permission of John Sheard Farms, looking at some of the wheats and winter barley.
Russell McKenzie said: “The main challenges on this farm are black-grass, disease, cabbage stem flea beetle, soil type and the weather. Black-grass is now the main driver of our cropping choices – it’s a challenge and I don’t think we can rely on the solution coming out of a can. On rotations, there’s also a question-mark over OSR for me now, with the loss of neonicotinoids and the possible issues around endocrine disruptors.
“We’re also looking at improving our soil organic matter and during the Monitor Farm project we’ll be delving into our soils with Philip Wright. We’ve found that cover crops on our heavy ground have improved our soil structure and removed moisture, so we have planted 50ha of cover crops this year to see how we get on. We’re also going to be grazing sheep – I think livestock have a role to play now.”
The next meeting at this Monitor Farm will be on 13 January 2015. Farmers who are interested in attending should contact AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds Regional Manager Tim Isaac, by emailing Cereals.East@ahdb.org.uk or calling 07964 975078.
More information about the Huntingdon Monitor Farm can be found at AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds/huntingdon.