The chess pieces of farming

Farming is a sequence of decisions, made throughout the year by the farmer and his trusted advisors. Each decision made will then have a knock on effect that could see immediate change; like the use of the correct pesticide to treat weed infestation, disease outbreak or pest attack. Other decisions could take a few years to pan out to see if the change was positive or negative. Strategies need to be fluid and flexible to change, given the risk that is associated with producing crops in such volatile and variable environment in the way of climate, politics and commodity price.

Like a skilful chess player farmers will have strategies for all crops, fields and situation. The long-term strategy of crop rotation is one that I have been looking at recently. I have a long rotation of twelve years built around growing herbage grass seed on a contract for seeding professional sports pitches and lawn turf. With my rotation plan I try and utilise different crops in an order through the years to allow me to bring other farming strategies into play. I bring in these other strategies if the opportunity arises. For example cultivation: direct drilling can be used following some crops, then a full soil inversion method of the plough or deeper soil work like mole draining would be required elsewhere. The cultivation method I use has financial implications: soil movement costs me money, but can allow other farming techniques to be used such as cover crops or stale seed beds. Cover cropping will rejuvenate soil and stale seedbeds will reduce weed burden but you can’t use them at the same time in the same field.

This then forces my hand with what pesticides I can use or normally can’t use, governing how I will have to meet different challenges through the year like potential increased pest pressure or disease carryover due to the strategies adopted in previous decisions some made two or three years previous.

chess game by @rawpixel

However if you make one wrong decision at anytime with any of your strategies it could prove to be a hammer blow, like losing your queen in a chess game. It could push you back to the start or the weather will act the stroppy loser and throw the board up into the air and all your pieces will land jumbled up and it will take time to get them all lined up again.

So as you drive around the Suffolk chess board of different crops think about all the planning and preparations that goes into producing our raw food commodities, some are successful and we learn by our mistakes. We enjoy our successes but I assure you it will never be ‘check mate’ for farming and food production in Suffolk as our industry is driven by a relatively small group of people dedicated to delivering year on year.

Find out more about AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds Strategic Farms

This blog was originally written for the East Anglian Daily Times



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.

Comments are closed here.