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Why regen farmer opted for a rotation with no break crops

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A wheat/wheat/fallow rotation may not be within the minds of many growers, particularly one dedicated to shifting a enterprise in direction of a extra regenerative strategy.

However assuming this season’s trial is successful, that’s the course an Oxfordshire farm is heading in direction of.

The rotation that Ben Adams – who farms 400ha of arable crops, plus round 100ha of grassland together with his mother and father, close to Bicester – is considering isn’t fairly so simple as it sounds, nevertheless.

See additionally: Regenerative agriculture: What to keep away from and find out how to begin

“The concept has come as a result of there are not any break crops price rising,” he says.

“Spring linseed in 2020 did rather well, attaining our second highest gross margin behind winter wheat. However in 2021 it was abysmal.

“So, I need to return to a wheat/wheat/fallow rotation, however do it higher.”

Cowl crop

Which means a winter wheat crop might be adopted with an overwinter cowl crop, earlier than spring wheat – chosen quite than spring barley due to its harvest date – adopted by a legume-based wholecrop.

If circumstances allowed in late October/November, a second winter wheat could be drilled as a substitute of the spring wheat.

The wholecrop – a mix of oats, winter beans, winter vetch and crimson clover – might be harvested by early June earlier than any blackgrass seeds by two beef producers with whom Mr Adams has current straw for muck offers.

He’s hoping the muck will be unfold on that land within the drier summer time months when there’s a decrease leaching threat.

Different practices being employed or trialled on the farm

  • House-made compost comprised of wooden chip and farmyard manure
  • Johnson-Su bioreactor composting
  • Organic inputs
  • Intercropping – linseed and oats (oats eliminated); peas and oats
  • Wheat selection blends
  • Liquid seed drench utilized at drilling
  • No typical seed remedies or pesticides
  • No bagged phosphorus and nitrogen in 15-plus years

A summer time cowl crop might be established after utilizing a low-disturbance subsoiler to rectify any soil injury from harvesting the wholecrop and the muckspreaders earlier than a wheat crop is direct-drilled into the quilt.

Discovering a constant method of getting a summer time cowl crop into the rotation after seeing the quantity of insect and organic exercise current in them after they had been established in fields that had flooded throughout final winter is one other driver for the choice.

© Ben Adams

“The one subject we might face is that below Farming Guidelines for Water, a summer time cowl crop doesn’t have any nitrogen requirement, so we would should develop a maize crop with a number of companions as maize does have an N [nitrogen] requirement.”

The mix of legume wholecrop, farmyard manure and summer time cowl crop ought to scale back the necessity for utilized artificial nitrogen dramatically within the wheat crop, he believes.

Workload advantages

One other consideration for altering the rotation, however the potential advantages in decreasing inputs and enhancements in soil well being, is to enhance logistics and unfold workload on the farm.

For the previous two years, the farm has been overstaffed with Mr Adams getting back from travelling post-university and unable to take up employment off the farm due to Covid, including to 3 full-time employees, together with his father.

However that’s all modified this autumn, with Mr Adams starting full-time employment with Laurence Gould and one other member of employees leaving the farm.

A swap to the brand new rotation will simplify operations and scale back bottlenecks in operations at key instances (see “Operational timeline”).

Operational timeline

  • Early-mid August – mix winter wheat
  • Late August – drill overwinter cowl crop
  • Early September – mix spring wheat
  • Late September – drill wholecrop legume combine
  • October – drill winter wheat
  • Spring – drill spring wheat
  • Late Might – harvest wholecrop combine (by beef farmer neighbours)
  • Late June – unfold muck
  • Early July – drill summer time cowl crop combine

Financially, he’s aiming to interrupt even with the wholecrop and summer time cowl crop combine and use the 2 wheats as money crops.

“We might want to unfold our fastened prices over a smaller space, however the variable prices ought to lower as effectively.

“From a tough funds calculation, the brand new rotational gross margin £/ha needs to be about the identical as the present rotation. I additionally need to see the way it stacks up financially to the AB15 countryside stewardship choice.

“It’s my grand plan however I’m unsure if it’s going to work, which is why we’re trialling a area for every of our two beef farmer neighbours to see whether or not they just like the wholecrop and the way it works.”

Regen inspiration

A visit organised by the Institute of Agricultural Administration to Jake Freestone’s Overbury Farms, whereas he was a pupil at Harper Adams College, was the inspiration behind Ben Adams’ need to vary farming philosophy at house.

Understanding the potential price financial savings from each direct-drilling and wider enter discount Mr Freestone was attaining was enlightening, he explains.

However the tour around the farm, and thru subsequently studying regen books and listening to podcasts, additionally highlighted the environmental advantages of that strategy.

“It modified from a profit-making train to additionally having the ability to run a sustainable enterprise offering environmental advantages.”

Making a living

Profitability stays essential, he stresses. “Because the saying goes, you possibly can’t be inexperienced in the event you’re within the purple. However in the event you will be worthwhile in addition to offering environmental advantages, why wouldn’t you?” he asks.

Since leaving college, Mr Adams has been transitioning the farm together with his father in direction of utilizing regenerative ideas extra. “Progressively, we’ve turn out to be a bit braver.”

Use of canopy crops has been prolonged to earlier than all spring crops within the present winter wheat/spring wheat/winter beans/winter wheat/spring linseed or peas rotation, with the species combine altering from black oats and vetch to a multispecies combine tailor-made as to whether the next crop is a cereal or broadleaf break crop.

Cowl crop prices are stored down by utilizing a combination of roughly £20/ha of bought-in seeds and £5/ha of home-saved seed from oats, linseed and peas, which make up about 50% of the combination.

“You may spend a lot cash on cowl crops so simply, however it must make monetary sense.

“We made about £13/ha from grazing final yr, however livestock can injury the soil if left too lengthy. We wish the advantage of the sheep bringing the biomass down, begin decomposing and biking the inexperienced matter quite than leaving them on too lengthy for an additional couple of kilos, damaging the highest 2in and having to domesticate within the spring.

“If you’ll graze, an excellent shepherd is paramount.”

Shallower

Tillage depth on the loamy brash/loamy clay soils has been regularly decreased, with a modified Vaderstad Speedy getting used to direct-drill the place applicable.

“We’ve offered our plough and Lemken Karat deep tillage cultivator prior to now two years and acquired a He-Va Stealth low-disturbance subsoiler, which we use if one thing wants assist.”

In the long term, he hopes to make use of Defra’s Farming Funding Fund to purchase a no-till disc drill.

Whereas it’s early days for assessing the monetary advantages of the modifications being made, preliminary calculations counsel enter use has decreased by about 30%, partly as a result of elevated spring cropping.

“Our subsequent focus might be on fastened prices. Shedding two full-time workers will make a distinction and we are going to finally go from three tractors to 2.

“We’re most likely over-capacity with our mix too, particularly if we’re decreasing the mixed space by one-third, in order that’s one thing we’ll want to take a look at,” he concludes.

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