Meet a member of our Growers Club, Dick Hall
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, Dick Hall, who is sharing his insights and experience with some of our varieties.
Corhampton Lane Farm, Corhampton, Hampshire
Area farmed: 250 hectares home farm plus 550 hectares rented
Soil types: Light soils over chalk
Key crops: Spring barley, grass seed, winter wheat, winter oilseed rape
Typical cultivations: No-till regime using Cross Slot drill
RAGT varieties: RGT Planet, RGT Bijou
Main markets: Seed
Reducing the amount and frequency of cultivations is helping Dick Hall improve the resilience of his shallow light chalk soils as well as the farm’s bottom line.
For the past three years a Cross Slot drill has been used to establish all crops. In addition, Dick has increased the areas of spring barley and grass seed.
“I like to think we are working to our strengths,” says Dick. “Since 2016 we have direct-drilled everything, following several years of minimum tillage, which had replaced the plough.
“We use a Cross Slot drill because it was developed in New Zealand for grass-based systems. Lots of people ask how well it works. All I can say is that with my soil types, cropping and weed spectrum it does a very good job.”
Spring barley usually accounts for about 350ha, including RGT Planet grown for Pearce Seeds and Robin Appel, but an extra 50ha was sown this season to replace failed oilseed rape.
“Spring barley is now our biggest crop, partly because on light soils we can do a reasonable job of growing it, and partly because it offers the best route to establishing grass seed, our second biggest crop.”
Dick grows about 230ha of grass seeds, both forage and amenity varieties, which play a key part in the rotation.
“They are good for the business and good for the soil. Grass is a great creator of organic matter, and also helps us minimise our cultivations, as we undersow barley with grass in the spring, which means we can leave the soil undisturbed for the following two and a half years.”
Undersowing was the traditional method of establishing grass, but it fell out of favour with the advent of better grassweed herbicides that favoured autumn establishment.
However, these herbicides have since been revoked. “I would say about half the grass seeds in this area are once again being established by undersowing,” says Dick.
Dick Hall says RGT Bijou has been a good choice as it swamps out weed competition.
He grows several varieties including RGT Bijou, a late perennial tetraploid, on contract to RAGT Seeds. Dick has increased the area of this variety – 20ha is due for its second and final harvest this summer, but he has sown 55ha this spring ready for harvest 2021 and 2022. Target yield is 1.2t/ha.
“I prefer to grow on contract for the main breeders. We discuss what they are looking for and I try to find a match with what I want to do.
“RGT Bijou has been a good choice. We have a zero tolerance approach to blackgrass for grass seed production and, being a tetraploid, RGT Bijou has an aggressive growth habit. It is very capable of swamping out the competition – it doesn’t give weeds much chance to get a hold.”
Winter wheat and oilseed rape make up most of the remaining cropped area and also provide an opportunity to maintain pressure on difficult grass weeds. In addition, glyphosate is spot sprayed to keep on top of sterile brome and rat’s tail fescue, the latter a relatively recent problem.
“Up until now we have been able to use ethofumesate in grass seeds to control it, and we need to find a way forward with CRD to continue doing so,” says Dick.
All crops look reasonable, given the season, he adds. The spring barley was sown at the end of March, a few weeks later than normal, but after a couple of showers it is doing well, Dick reports.
“We’ve been growing RGT Planet for six years and have always got on well with it. We expect in excess of 7t/ha from our spring barleys, including those undersown with grass, where we have to be careful with seed rate and fertiliser and PGR use to ensure the grass isn’t swamped, and the Planet hasn’t disappointed.”