Soil moisture deficit, benchmarking and try-outs at Brigg Monitor Farm

Colin Chappell pea crop

Well, hey, harvest went well! That was the highlight of the year. The photo above shows my pea crop this year, with the top pod having shed, the haulm still unfit to harvest, and a flower bud forming towards the middle right of the picture!! I was led to believe peas were less indeterminate than that.

Since announcing on my first Monitor Farm meeting my historical 5 year averages, I see those figures as mere aspirations now. I guess in a season like this one, what else is there to be expected?  We started this time last year with a harvest rainfall figure of just over 400mm (9 July 2017 – 25 October  2017) and then stopped about 2 April with a further 250mm having fallen. Today, in early October our Soil Moisture Deficit stands at just under 90mm!

I guess this is where your benchmarking comes in to play. Your harvest is ‘X’ which places restrictions on your spending, but the farm has, over the course of two years improved its bottom line through detailed analysis of all the figures. By paying close attention on those fixed costs, which as I have said a little too many times now are variable, and trimming slightly the variable costs to match seasonal pressure, but are by and large fixed, we end up with a figure that is reasonable, all things considered. It of course helps that my 9.4t/ha winter wheat crop last year that sold on average for £157.50/t, matches nicely my 8.3t/ha crop at £178/t (having sold a little forward now). However, knowing that my underlying figures are OK really helps that mental process of a poorer harvest undermining confidence in my own abilities.

Going forward, Brigg Monitor Farm has five try-out cover crop mixes in the ground at the moment, which we will discuss in our first winter meeting in November. There have been some stark differences in establishment and subsequent growth which need talking about. These may help or hinder establishment of the next crop of spring wheat, which could show its hand during the year. We will also cover the full field establishment demonstrations of last year’s direct drilled versus min-till versus ploughing which again have highlighted some impressive variation.

Further on in the year, I am particularly keen to focus on the topic of building soil organic matter, with discussions on varying materials from soil conditioners to recycled material and their impact on the soils. We are also having a visit to Lincoln University’s spray handling facilities, in an attempt to focus on the need to protect the water from accidental exposure to chemical residues.

One further meeting will look at the role or otherwise of technology in future agriculture: maybe elements of organic farming have a role, or are robust modern varieties combined with precision agriculture the future? To this end we are running an almost 100 acre split field trial in an attempt to grow a modern wheat variety with nutrient and bio-stimulants (plus other such alternatives) and the bare minimum of chemical intervention (although the blizzard of aphids already present on other emerging cereals does not bode too well!!).

Find out future meeting dates and details

Colin Chappell

Colin Chappell

Colin Chappell farms with his family at Gander Farm near Brigg, Lincolnshire. The lowland mixed arable and beef unit has 615 ha combinable crops and 32 ha permanent pasture. Colin’s arable rotation is normally peas or oilseed rape, followed by two wheats. He recently replaced his second wheats either with spring wheat due to black-grass pressure, or maize on lighter land for a local AD plant. During the three years of the programme Colin hopes to look at succession, joint venture farming and how his farm can survive in a post-EU Britain.