We know how our varieties perform in trials but it’s even more important to see how they perform on farm, and that’s where our Growers Club comes in.
This month we catch up with Bedfordshire arable operator Matt Fuller.
Heathcote Farms, Herne Manor Farm, Toddington, Bedfordshire.
Area farmed: 1150 hectares.
Soil types: Mainly heavy clay (Hanslope series), greensand on one smaller unit.
Key crops: Winter wheat, winter oilseed rape, winter/spring barley, winter/spring beans, spring peas, cover crops.
Typical cultivations: Rotational plough (one year in seven), minimum cultivations (tines/discs as required).
A warm open autumn has enabled autumn drilling to be completed for the first time in three years at Heathcote Farms, but some acres will remain fallow ahead of spring crops, which are now a key part of the rotation.
“The weather has been really kind since mid August,” says Matt. “Since we drilled the oilseed rape we’ve had rain at the right time and it’s stayed mild. Soil conditions have been good and we’ve got everything in the ground as planned.
“Every day crops have been putting roots down and putting on green area, a real contrast to the past couple of seasons.”
In all, 500ha of wheat, 80% of which is milling, 90ha of barley, 25ha of winter beans and 50ha of oats have been sown, as well as 60ha of winter oilseed rape, back after a year’s absence.
The crop was dropped last season as it would have followed spring wheat, which the farm was forced to grow following the atrocious 2019 autumn. That would have delayed OSR drilling and increased the risk of flea beetle damage. But the pest has been almost absent this year, probably due to some late heavy frosts last spring, and the crop has established well.
OSR’s return will also ease management next summer. The crop replaces winter linseed tried last year, that ended up being uncompetitive against blackgrass and late to harvest. “On our heavy soils stale seedbeds are important, so OSR will bring that option back,” says Matt.
Spring cropping is now an important tool in the blackgrass armoury. In some cases it is used to create a double break from winter cropping, with spring peas or beans after spring barley boosting control of the weed.
Next spring 55ha of RGT Planet will be sown on overwintered wheat stubbles on some variable land to the north of the main farm, making the most of its reputation for consistency across all soil types.
“We started growing the crop two years ago, when we were forced into growing 600ha of spring cereals and we wanted to spread the risk,” says Matt.
“We grew 105ha of Planet that year, drilled into heavy clay at the end of March. The variety showed fantastic vigour and achieved excellent germination and emergence.
“We pushed the crop for yield and it produced over 9t/ha, despite a third being left out in wind and rain that delayed combining by 10 days and resulted in some head loss. We ended up with good quality too and from a blackgrass point of view the field was very clean.”
A plan to grow 70ha last season was shelved due to the glut of barley in the market. Spring milling wheat took its place. But the variety is back in force this year.
“We don’t see any reason to switch out of Planet – we can’t find much fault with it,” says Matt.
“There are higher yielding varieties available, but often a couple of percentage points in trials aren’t seen on farm. Planet has good disease resistance and stands well.
“And once you know how to grow a variety and get it to perform, that’s a half the battle won. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”
The crop will probably be pushed for yield again, but the variety is a favourite with brewers, thanks to its bold grain, low screenings, good hot water extract and low nitrogen levels.
It could end up going for malting, depending on crop potential, prices and fertiliser costs. “If it looks well enough and the premiums are there, we might be tempted,” says Matt.