There is no magic!

By Martin Williams


Figure 1.Revelation (inc Vibrance trial.) 175kg/ha

Well, here I find myself past the bleak midwinter, with the days lengthening and the lambs starting to bunt and play on the remnants of the turnips, and so our thoughts turn to spring.

Winter always seems shorter than when I was a schoolboy, then, it seemed to be dark forever but now it feels by mid-January that jobs needs doing in readiness for spring which arrives at an alarming rate.

This winter as monitor farmers we have engaged in meetings from establishment to muck and water.

Our last meeting was a closed affair discussing benchmarking. Always a huge bone of contention.

It was a large group for the meeting which gave us a wide spread of not only costs but routes to find them. The underlying feeling was that we are maybe a little kind with ourselves and data input is absolutely crucial!

John Pelham did a great job of nursing us through and imparted some more widespread ‘averages’ on costs of producing our worldly goods. It feels to me that even though I have been ‘Farmbenching’ for a few years now I am guilty of repetitive mistakes and I am determined to revisit this year to firm up before our next gathering.

The sad fact is that we are all looking hard at the reports looking for the magic trick to jump out and hit us but there is no magic. Magic is for television, and unless we engage Penn and Teller to run next year’s meeting then we will stay chained in the water filled box. What we need is the magic box of cutting costs in half, but unfortunately it too is an illusion.

Farmbench is however a true discussion of benchmarking. It is a real step change for farmers to discuss anything other than the weather and to meet candidly sharing knowledge and information can only be good for all so long may it continue and thank you for all those who took part.

On the farm the crops look pretty good and the oilseed rape which I felt was too forward had a nice dump of snow on it before Christmas which steadied it nicely. Wheat looks healthy-ish green and walking the barley will clean my wellies so it has covered the ground well. It was a lovely planting autumn here and whatever drill placed it matters not as we could have poked it in with a stick and it would have grown. Time will tell how it progresses but recently it seems the late spring has more effect than the winter on quantity and quality.

Figure 2.Elgar @2.7kg/ha

I have a few bits of land destined for spring cropping, some through my beloved black-grass pressure and some through rotation. Some is let for potatoes and as for the rest I, am yet uncertain, though maize might seem a safer option. The local AD fraternity seem to drive the need and have somewhat put a bottom in the spring land market. If it doesn’t work out then profitable options in cereals are somewhat limited. Spring barley is an easy pick, though often looking like Cinderella but harvesting like an ugly sister. Spring wheat, which we grew last year deceived us at harvest having looked like a show crop all season and won’t feature in March/April drilling for me, though we have tried some Mulika, late autumn drilled this time.

Pulses also are failing to show any promise. I would struggle in the ‘Dragons Den’ spouting the present sale figures, a shame as some years I am sure even the Dragons would invest.

I am also sorting out fertiliser requirements, another winter job which we won’t know is correct until August. This farming lark is a constant learning curve and setting out your stall in these uncertain times seems as complex as Brexit.

This is a conundrum which I have yet to solve.

Looking ahead, Russell and I are running our last meeting of the winter on 21 February and this time the subject is ‘Sweating your Assets’.

We are going to look at options for diversity on the farm relevant to our area and hopefully relevant to guests of the day. It will be presented by David Kinnersley of Fisher German who will have visited us prior to the meeting to assess options.

For the other part of the meeting we are going off piste as it’s ski season. We are looking to discuss leadership and organisational skills in regard to business. As farmers we are often ‘head down, bum up’ dealing with day to day and neglect the bigger picture views that many business focus upon, be it staff, business structure, systems or strategy. This is something we are really looking forward to and also to welcoming guests to join us on the day.

We have thoroughly enjoyed our first winter as Monitor Farmers. It has flown by but we have learned a lot both about ourselves and, through Richard Meredith’s excellent guidance have gained plenty from the AHDB. I am not evangelistic about it but if you have not been involved alongside the AHDB then please do. It’s funded by you, for you and is a wealth of knowledge.

Sorry to go on. I hope you look forward to the spring and summer ahead, we are lucky to work in beautiful countryside and despite everything it’s something most folk aspire to.

Good luck to all of you in the growing season ahead.

If you’d like to come along to our meetings, contact Richard Meredith on

Martin Williams and Russell Price

Martin Williams and Russell Price

Russell Price and Martin Williams are between them hosting the new Monitor Farm for Herefordshire. Included in their rotations wheat, barley, peas, beans, oilseed rape and potatoes. Martin farms 800 ha arable crops on the banks of the River Wye at Fownhope, and also has a small flock of Jacob sheep and rents out land for grazing. Martin’s particular challenges are trying to decrease his cost of production, be successful in a very competitive market and to efficiently manage crops with limited chemical availability. On the Herefordshire/Worcestershire border, Russell Price’s arable farming operation includes 360 ha farmed in-hand, 290 ha contract farmed and 130 ha potatoes grown. The challenges faced by Russell’s business include black-grass, improving soil health, efficiency of crop nutrition and building a resilient farming business to withstand volatility. Working together to form this joint Monitor Farm, Russell and Martin are confident that this collaboration will allow them to make comparisons in their businesses, thus providing a wide array of topics around which local farmers can share knowledge and best practice.

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