Our Monitor Farm plan – a long term approach

Last week while the weather was wet and no good for doing anything apart from watching the ducks dance around the puddles in the yard, I put my mind to how I felt I wanted to take our Monitor Farm programme forward.

The launch spelled out a few key subjects but it also showed me how – within the group attending – mind-set, experience and understanding of subjects varied from person to person. Some were on the next page, if not chapter in front of me; others were where I thought I was; and some were a page or so behind. It just showed that farming minds move in mysterious ways, but somehow we all end up in the same place each year with a barn full of grain.

Farming for me is a long term investment. My crop rotation is twelve years; my black-grass recovery plan seven to eight years; machinery replacement is on a six to ten year plan; and our family business plan has to look long term to protect the core interests. So I wanted to have a long term vision for our group meetings through the first two years so everyone could hopefully see the progression.

At the launch we explained we had a rough plan for the meetings. On the first Friday of the chosen month through the winter, an agronomy group will meet in the morning, we’ll have lunch and then an arable business group in the afternoon. The programme allows for a flexible attendance, so that growers can come in the morning, stay for lunch then leave or come to lunch and attend the afternoon or come for the whole day.

To make it work we need a good programme, so the idea my steering group, Tim and I have come up with is just that: a long term approach where we strip down the farming calendar into bite size bits. Then each month we will tackle, challenge, discuss and learn about different experiences related to that topic. I didn’t want to just bounce from pillar to post with no link between monthly meetings.

This table below sets out the general idea of the future meetings:

Subjects For Stowmarket MF

The agronomy group will be a practical based group – wherever possible we will be out and about with soil under our feet looking and discussing the subject in the field at Lodge Farm, Westhorpe. We didn’t want to be lectured or sold a product relating to an invited speaker – we want this to be farmer-led, with farming knowledge exchanged while we discuss the topic. We will again plan to use the wireless clickers for voting at the start, and so we can move the discussion into the right areas without losing too much time to just general discussion.  We will then invite industry experts to be on hand to answer queries and add to the debate. The speakers will be confirmed closer to the date on the reminder emails.

The Arable Business Group will be much more theory/paper based and depending on numbers will either be in our farm office or at a local village hall, so keep your eyes out for the email reminders from the AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds.  Again industry experts and AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds staff will be invited to help the group get to grips with CropBench+ and then in the second year subjects will be tailored to the groups needs. We are also inviting a company representative to go through a lunchtime report on current market prices and trends. This will hopefully help us to get a feel for the commodity and fertiliser markets going forward.  They will be given a ‘five minute soap box style pitch’ during lunch for us to listen and then people can ask questions once their time is up.

The technical visits will be chosen to look at a local research project that would tie in with one of the other topics to be discussed. As a group we have the advantage that doors will open for 40 farmers, which would remain closed for an individual. We will have a spring farm tour to round the year off and we can look at the full farm approach of the host farmer.

Hopefully this looks like an interesting plan of events and that you will be able to attend.  So get your diaries out and get the dates booked in. The three subjects for this winter’s agronomy group meetings are explained below with the arable business group concentrating on Cropbench+ and how to get benchmarking up and running, for those who want to do it:

9 Jan 2015 – Soil, our biggest asset. A discussion on how we can improve and look after soil in a more sustainable way to protect our long term future. Cover crops, conductivity tests, zonal mapping, organic matter, soil condition assessment tools.

6 Feb 2015 – Seed and establishment, crop start-off. A discussion on how we  could improve and alter our approach to maximise plant establishment into and through the winter. Seed dressing, seed rates, seed depth, seedling pest protection, increased rooting, fertiliser placement.

6 March 2016 – Herbicides: not just black-grass – weeds come in many shapes and sizes. A discussion of how to best protect and eradicate and minimise seed return of any weed in our crop. Herbicide choice, mixes, application nozzles, timings, soil condition, stale seed beds, crop kill of thresholds.

Come listen and add to the discussion with your experiences at this on-farm event with industry experts on hand to answer questions.

Have a Merry Christmas! Hopefully I will bump into some of you on the shooting field or at other events and if you have any questions or want to join the group please contact Tim Isaac AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds regional manager for the East – email tim.isaac@ahdb.org.uk or call 01255 830741.

See you in 2015!



Brian and his cousin Patrick run E.J. Barker & Sons, a family farm partnership and contracting business in Suffolk dating back to 1957. The 667ha arable farm business is farmed on 12 - and nine-year rotations, incorporating winter wheat for feed, spring barley, herbage grass seed, oilseed rape and a break crop of beans, linseed or peas. Environmental consideration is crucial to the running of the business, and remains a key factor in all decision-making on farm.