Meet a member of our Growers Club, Alan Luck
We know how our varieties perform in trial but what’s even more important is how they perform on farm, and that’s where our Growers Club comes in.
We would like to introduce one of our Growers Club members, Alan Luck, who is sharing his insights and experience with some of our varieties.
Luck Farming, Priory Farm, Preston St Mary, Sudbury, Suffolk
Area farmed: 120 hectares
Soil types: Chalky boulder clay
Key crops: Milling wheats, spring beans, linseed, oilseed rape
Typical cultivations: Rotational ploughing (3-4 year), deep min till
RAGT varieties: RGT Skyfall, RGT Beetleblocker (OSR companion crop mix)
Main markets: Milling
While many growers are shunning oilseed rape this season, Suffolk grower Alan Luck is giving the crop another chance, growing it in combination with companion plants to try to combat flea beetle, which wiped out a large proportion of the crop last year.
Beans and linseed are also used as breaks, but Alan is keen to maintain oilseed rape in the rotation on the chalky boulder clays at Priory Farm, near Sudbury, where he has been farming with his wife Denise for the past 16 years.
The crop has generated good margins in the past and it enables the partners to make full use of the grain store, which is set up to dry and clean the seed.
“The farm has had flea beetle problems in the past, so we tried to get around that by drilling late,” says Alan. “We drilled two fields last year within two days of each other. We saw the first one disappear before our eyes, but the second one pulled through.
“This season we’re trying a 15ha block of RGT Beetleblocker, a mix of Blackmillion oilseed rape and fenugreek and berseem clover.
“The idea is that the fenugreek acts as a deterrent to the beetle and the berseem clover helps the crop get its roots down quickly to aid establishment and autumn growth.”
Skyfall has been a mainstay of his winter wheat programme for several years. “It produced an astonishing 13t/ha at 13% protein in 2019, but unfortunately we weren’t able to drill any winter crops last autumn.
“We’re growing it again this season – it would be nice if we could replicate that performance again, but the variety does produce a good milling sample and it can be grown as a first or second wheat. It has always done well for us.”
Alan, who does his own agronomy, intends to hold his nerve as far as drilling is concerned. “Some people will no doubt go early for good reasons but, given our blackgrass problem and the potential for BYDV in this area, we will be holding off until well into October.”
Most crops are established under a min-till regime, usually a sequence of Simba discs/Sumo Trio, but Alan does plough rotationally every four years or so to help keep blackgrass under control on the worst fields.
This past season has been the most difficult he can remember, with the whole farm sown to spring wheat and spring barley. Harvest was delayed by wet weather although crops were not mature.
“I was hoping that would turn in to extra yield,” says Alan “The spring barley was very variable. It averaged 8.5t/ha but ranged from 6 to 12t/ha, and unfortunately was not suitable for malting.
“The spring wheat yielded between 7.4 and 10t/ha, but quality suffered. We lost the Hagberg, which was galling given we achieved 13% protein and good specific weight.
“We had carried out a soil nitrogen test in early spring, which showed we had 50kg/ha available, so we only applied 125kg/ha to the crop.”
Blackgrass was a particular problem in two fields that were sown to spring barley.
“It may take another spring crop to get on top of the problem. We only ploughed the fields last year so it might pay to keep the blackgrass seed where it is so we know what we are dealing with, rather than potentially pulling up a fresh supply.
“A cover crop/spring barley sequence is one option, followed by min-tilling next autumn before sowing oilseed rape, which would bring in alternative chemistry.”