From the north: Rutland to Berwick

November 2013

What a difference a year makes! New roles for both AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds and myself for a start. Needless to say it’s going to be an exciting 12 months to come, with Arable Business Groups to support and Monitor Farms to find. The thing that interests me most is the independence to make better use of the information already held at AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds. I’m also keen to set up a two-way flow of thoughts, ideas and comments, helping farmers and growers become more robust in the long term and making sure AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds is looking at the things that matter to us.

Thinking back to this time last year, conditions are so different. Twelve months ago crops were struggling to survive in part-flooded, drilled fields. Who was to know that the wet weather wouldn’t let up until March this year? It gladdened my heart to see nicely-drilled crops coming through this autumn, but the dry conditions left cloddy, stale seedbeds that didn’t encourage any black-grass to spray off. Follow that with more rain than we really needed, and we’re now looking at applying a different chemistry. Soil temperature remains on the high side too.

Visiting CropTech at the end of October brought some longer term issues to the fore. Many of the seminars looked at ‘what next?’ with a focus on raising yields but maintaining quality. As Dr Vicky Foster, AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds Senior Research and Knowledge Transfer Manager said, “it’s a case of more from less” and there’s no one solution. To get the kind of yields necessary by 2050 we’ll need a combination of soil and water science, plant breeding, nutrition, and pest and disease control.

Professor Simon Blackmore’s talk on mechanisation at CropTech was particularly interesting to me. It would be easy to dismiss his vision of robotic machines taking care of crop husbandry, but I don’t think we can ignore what he had to say. The largest combine with a tank full of grain weighs close to 30t, much of which is on the front axle. Whatever wheel or track equipment you use, 30t is still 30t and in the wrong soil conditions would place compaction out of reach for years. A mechanised solution, for example three driverless machines weighing between 2t and 4t, drilling for 23 hours a day, may not only be technologically possible but economically viable not so far from now.

Finally, I’m looking forward to a couple of dates in particular:

  • AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds Agronomists’ Conference, Peterborough Arena, East of England Showground, on Tuesday 10 December. This full-day technical conference focuses on the latest developments from AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds’ research programme. It’s usually very well attended and is bookable on the website right now.
  • Quite a bit further ahead is the Malting Barley Breakfast at Muntons near Bridlington on Thursday 30 January 2014. If you grow malting barley then it’s one for the diary.


Based at Ashkam Bryan near York, Harry grew up on a beef farm in his native north Wales. Subsequently, Harry developed an interest in farm machinery that took him around the world working in agriculture. Having managed a plant breeding farm near Cambridge for Monsanto, in 2005 Harry joined John Deere as Crop Systems Specialist, from where he was recruited by AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds.