Being adaptable

I see the Monitor Farm programme as an opportunity to learn. People can come here and share in the things that I’m doing, but it also gives me an opportunity to learn from others as well. I particularly want to use the experience to understand more about mitigating costs, and increasing farm profitability.

I am happy to change any aspect of my business in order to improve it. Be it rotation or cultivation policy, doing something because that’s how you have always done it doesn’t make it right.  With grain markets that can double or half in a season and unpredictable weather patterns we have, it’s important to be adaptable.

I keep a close eye on my costs of production.  I use a high input system and aim to achieve a high output that giving me the cheapest cost of production per tonne on land that has good potential. Lower yielding fields are managed accordingly on a field by field basis.  I tend to look at cost per tonne rather than cost per acre. I have seen my input costs go up over the last few years because chemical use has gone up, although cost of cultivation, for me, has now gone down.

This season is my first harvest with the new drilling system. Historically I grew first wheat, second wheat, winter barley then oilseed rape, but going forward I’m changing to wheat, oilseed rape, wheat and spring beans. So far the yields are the same as we usually get, but we’ll wait and see how things pan out over the next few years.

Conventional cultivation was an immense cost, and it wasn’t doing our soils any good either – compacting and overworking our soils. We were noticing more and more the damage we were causing to our soils, especially in wet seasons like 2012. In fact, we’re still recovering from 2012, and making  improvements.

Quite a lot of farmers use compost on the Yorkshire Dales, but not so much around here. It only costs £1/tonne but with haulage added in it costs me around £5/tonne. I’ll see how it goes.

I’ve also started using horizontal soil sample analysis, last year testing the P, K, Mg and lime status of the soil through a 12-inch profile.

I wanted to see where in the soil profile the nutrients were, and the results were very interesting.  I am planning more of these this year on different land blocks.

Growers who join in the Monitor Farm programme here will be able to find out about the relative benefits of different cover crops grown before spring beans.

I want to compare three mixes: DSV Terralife, an Agrovistsa black oat and vetch mix, and my own mix of oats, phacelia and fodder radish. The question is – which is best? I’m comparing all three to see which performs best on cost, soil structure and organic matter.



David Blacker farms around 890ha on a mix of family-owned, rented and stubble to stubble contracts just north of York. He is keen to drive down costs, and has recently bought a four metre strip-till drill which has led to a new rotation for 2014/15 - wheat, oilseed rape, wheat and spring beans. David grows feed wheat, chops all his straw and is using cover crops to improve soil structure and add organic matter to fields before spring beans. David is particularly interested in precision farming and improving his soil organic matter and structure, and is running his own trial to incorporate compost to raise the soil organic matter. He is also planning to re-locate his farm yard, including his chemical store which will include a bio-bed type spray washings system and rain water harvesting.