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 Norfolk grower Ken Goodger.
Ken Goodger Farming, Pates Farm, Tipps End, Welney, Norfolk
Area farmed: 320ha
Soil types: Silt and skirt fen.
Key crops: Winter wheat, potatoes, winter and spring barley, sugar beet, herbs for essential oils.
Cultivations: Varying, depending on soil type and weather.
RAGT varieties: Wheat: RGT Saki, RGT Bairstow. Spring barley: RGT Planet
Ken Goodger was applying the second dose of his variable rate nitrogen to his 240ha of winter wheats when we caught up at the start of this week.
He was putting 24% liquid UAN through his latest acquisition, a four-year old self-propelled Challenger RoGator machine with 36m booms. The base rate was set at 260 litres/ha, with application varying by about +/- 50 litres/ha based on SOYL satellite imagery.
“We changed to liquid N four years ago and we stopped using variable rates,” says Ken. “But with the price of nitrogen where it is, we want to put it where it is most needed.
“At the moment I’m not looking to save nitrogen. I’ve sold about a third of the wheat crop, assuming we get around 3.75t/acre, and all the information I’ve seen suggests it’s worth sticking with the usual rate given the higher grain prices, even though we paid a lot more for our nitrogen.
“However, I will take stock when we come to apply the final dose, and we’ll see how cost-effective it is looking then.”
Tempting though it may be, Ken is holding off further grain sales for now. “We’re not early drillers here – wheat has to fit around our herb operation and roots lifting, so we don’t generally start until November, although this does help with blackgrass control. And, while we have pretty good soils, they do dry out, and there are signs of stress in some crops.”
Ken is growing 25ha of RGT Saki, mostly as a second wheat and after barley, plus a small area after potatoes, mostly sown in mid November.
“The first wheat looks very good,” says Ken. “But we established most of our wheats with a 3m Kverneland combination drill after a pass with a Sumo Trio, rather than ploughing, and all the second wheats and those after barley, not just Saki, struggled a bit in the early spring with rows of chaff.”
An early feed with nitrogen, and a trace element and root stimulant boost at T0 and a repeat trace element dose two weeks later, has helped the crops recover. “They thinned out a bit in places, but have come back pretty well,” says Ken. “People tell me there’s yellow rust about but we’ve not seen any here.”
A 5ha block of newly recommended RGT Bairstow following sugar beet went in at the end of November. It looked a little hungry before its first feed, but Ken expects it will have pushed on in the warmer weather.
“It sounds like a very good variety, and on paper it is higher yielding than RGT Saki, which we have grown for three years now and was our best performing wheat last harvest, yielding 8.8t/ha, despite being very late drilled. It will be interesting to see how the RGT Bairstow compares and whether we can get a soft wheat premium as we did with the RGT Saki last year.”
That was a welcome boost to the coffers as sales of the farm’s well-established business, Norfolk Essential Oils, which grows and processes herbs, were hampered by the Covid outbreak.
“Around 40% of perfume is sold through duty free, and we all know what happened with foreign travel during Covid,” says Ken. “Our retail and aromatherapy business continued relatively unscathed, but a lot of chamomile for example goes into the wholesale market so we had to halve our herb area to 40ha when our customers stopped making perfume.
“We are seeing things pick up, and I think we will expand again – I feel we have to because of the BPS situation. Uncertainty over support payments was the main reason for setting up the business in the first place nearly over 20 years ago.
“It seems our government is more concerned about looking after a badger or a tree than food production. And I probably only have another 4-5 years on the farm, which we occupy on an FBT, so my options to enter a lot of environment schemes are pretty limited, and when you look at the cost of entering them you are often no better off.
“However, we grow potatoes for Birds Eye and McCain, who are excellent to work with. A lot of the prices are index linked, and they have model farms that do costings, so we are seeing improved prices for the next marketing year.”